New York Style Delicatessen and Meat Market
Now in the Heart of Cuenca
By Mike Rothman
Photographs by Luis Nieto and courtesy of Mike’s Meats
Having lived in the U.S. for most of my adult life, the thing I missed most, aside from all the earthquakes, was the amazing delicacies readily available on nearly every corner. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area was special for many reasons: the culture, the weather, the people, but more than anything—the food! I absolutely loved stopping by my local neighborhood deli; Lucca’s Delicatessen which happened to be my favorite. There I could find the most amazing cured and smoked meats, prepared salads, freshly baked breads and rolls, pastas, and other delicious Italian dishes not to mention the Napa Valley wines. Later in life, during my travels, I discovered the famous Jewish delis of New York—Katz’s, Stage Deli, and, of course, Carnegie Deli in Manhattan.
That’s what I missed most.
Don’t get me wrong, living in Ecuador is wonderful—absolutely fantastic! Life is good; the people are friendly, and the food, even though it’s not like the goodies we get in the States or Europe, is still delicious. Although I do miss all my favorite deli foods and grillin’ and chillin’ around the old barbecue, I was disappointed with the quality of the beef. A bit tough and quite chewy, it was unlike the well-marbled, tender cuts I was accustomed to enjoying from my backyard BBQ. Sure, one can cook seafood or chicken, but it just wasn’t the same as a nice, thick, juicy steak. The aroma of a beautifully aged Rib-Eye, New York Strip Steak or Porterhouse sizzling on the grill, just couldn’t be beat. I felt that if I could manage to source locally the absolute best beef and other meats along with all the other amazing delicacies I so missed from the States and offer those products here in Ecuador, not only could it be something new and different for myself but for others as well.
After a great deal of thought, research, and investment, I decided to pursue my dream.
It all began by traveling throughout Ecuador to source the absolute best cattle farmers willing to do things our way—follow our “recipe” regarding breed of cattle, how we wanted them kept, fed, and finished. After several months, we met the president of the cattle association in the neighboring province who bought into our way of thinking. As a result, we are able to provide extremely well-marbled, fatty, and tender cuts much like we find in the U.S. However, it didn’t stop there. I wanted to do everything possible to “wet age” the beef to make it even better. We do this using a material sourced from the United States manufactured specifically for this purpose: Cryovac ®.
Because much of my work in the States involved the processing and packaging of fresh food products, I knew what we needed to do—find a packer/processor who had the necessary equipment and team to vacuum package fresh—not frozen or pre-frozen—meat products. After interviewing a couple of processors here, we decided on Piggis. The owner, Mr. Carlos Pacheco, was fascinated by the opportunity knowing that he could expand his market to include many of the expats living in the greater Cuenca area as well as to those Cuencanos who had lived in the States and were familiar with the quality and cuts enjoyed in the U.S. and Europe. It was a marriage made in heaven (on earth). Although achieving the nearly perfect vacuum required to properly package fresh beef at this altitude can be quite the challenge, we were up to the task. With the support of Piggis, we were able to make our dream possible.
On May 25, 2019, we finally opened our new shop. Although we experienced a somewhat steep learning curve (the first order didn’t turn out as well as we had hoped), we knew what we had to do to get it right, and, to be perfectly candid, we’re still improving by adding some equipment, specifically some new external vacuum pumps to assist in creating a near perfect package. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re improving daily.
Many have asked about our store. We’re located on the front corner of Parque de la Madre on 12 de Abril and Federico Malo, next to the Military Hospital. We’ve been told that Mike’s Meats Artisanal Marketplace is deli heaven! We offer all the prime cuts, such as Rib-Eye, Porterhouse, New York Steaks, Filet Mignon, and many of the other common cuts we’re so accustomed to enjoying. What about brisket? Absolutely!! Most of our brisket is used to prepare our corned beef and pastrami, but we’re always happy to provide it in raw form as well for those who prefer to prepare their own. We also offer organic chicken, lamb, and pork and a variety of other prepared meats.
For those unaware, my name is Mike Rothman. I have used “Mike Roth” for social media and business simplicity. I moved to Ecuador six years ago from the San Francisco Bay Area. For almost 30 years, I made my home in Alamo, California, a small suburb about a half-hour (without traffic) east of San Francisco.
I began working as a supplier of packaging materials during the mid-80s. Although I had a few large accounts in Silicon Valley, my main interest was in the food sector. As a result, I learned lots about packaging fresh and perishable foods, and in 2006, I became a member of the Northern California Perishable Food Council. Due to some fairly severe health issues, corporate changes, and road weariness, I retired at the ripe old age of 48.
Mike’s Meats was one-and-a-half years in the planning, and we’re told by our friends and clients that the results are spectacular!
We try our best to do something that is unheard of in Ecuador. We’re so sure that you’ll notice the difference in quality and service that we guarantee our clients’ COMPLETE satisfaction or a full refund—no questions asked. We offer this guarantee for two reasons: 1) I hate to disappoint, and 2) I do what I do out of love and hope our friends and clients will feel similarly about our products.
When you walk into our shop, you’ll be greeted like a long-lost friend or family member. We chose the décor and ambiance to make you feel at home and welcomed. You’ll be asked to sample some of our truly delectable goodies. Come hungry to sample many of our premium, hard-to-find products. This is unique in Cuenca and all of Ecuador for that matter. The reaction from the Cuencanos at the try-before-you-buy approach has been amazing. They may not understand the concept, but they like it, and the word is getting out. The reason we do so is simple: we want our customers to be 100% satisfied BEFORE they decide to purchase our products.
Yes, we have been asked to supply our meats to restaurants and hotels, but we want to be sure that we’re able to satisfy the needs of our very loyal customers first. If you compare our prices with those of local supermarkets, you will find that we manage to get close (within a few bucks per pound) to our fine Cuencano competitors. However, because so much more goes into raising the cattle, the processing and packaging, even with extremely low margins, our costs are a bit higher. Unlike the others, however, we guarantee our customers’ satisfaction.
Our goal is to reach one out of 10 expats and ½ of 1% of the Cuencano population. Our dream for the future is a 50/50 mix, and the flag on the wall of the shop illustrates our vision. It is a combination of the Ecuadorian and U.S. flags divided equally. “50% American, 50% Ecuadorian. 100% awesome!!”
I do my best to help those most in need. Currently, most of our employees are Venezuelan refugees because they are most in need of our help and are willing to do things our way—the right way.
All of our products are prepared by local artisans who guarantee consistency and are able to meet demand. Our agreement is that they are welcome to continue to offer their products at the local Saturday ferias, but should they choose to do so, we agree that they sell their products for the exact same price we offer in our shop.
If all goes as planned, we hope to open another store in Guayaquil (Samborondón) and another in the Quito area (Cumbayá). For now, it is one step at a time to make sure operations are running smoothly and we’re able to maintain consistent quality. Our shop is open Monday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. We are closed on Sundays.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few of those responsible for our success in this venture. Without their dedication, assistance, and commitment, this would have never been possible. Juan Manuel Palacios has been my “partner” from the beginning. He’s our head of operations and my “right hand”. Clara Miriam Villaveces, my “left hand” and by my side from the start, is our store manager. Without her encouragement and dedication, we would be lost. Horlando Vera, production manager at Piggis, has been terrific. I honestly don’t know what we would do without his help and dedicated, personal attention to assure our friends’ and clients’ complete satisfaction. Finally, Antonino Salerno Castello has gone beyond the call of duty to make sure that everything runs smoothly behind the scenes and in front of our customers. There are many, many more I would like to mention but am unable to in this short article. They know who they are, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. Candidly, they deserve all the credit.
You will be able to order via our forthcoming, state-of-the-art, e-commerce website www.mikesmeatscuenca.com; via telephone 095-890-0983; or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please stop by for a visit. We look forward to meeting you.