Initially, Brandon and Tara Protiva-Brown didn’t plan on serving sandwiches at Hillcrest Artisan Meats (H.A.M.), the cozy butcher shop in Hillcrest they opened in November 2011. “But everyone said, ‘You’ve got to do sandwiches. This area needs more choices,’ ” Brown recalled recently. So they did, using their diverse selection of meat, much of which you couldn’t get in Little Rock pre-H.A.M. (or at least not of the same quality).
Flash-forward a year later. Sandwiches such as the fried mortadella, brick-pressed prosciutto and duck ham have become so popular, H.A.M. occasionally sells out by early afternoon. It’s not just the sandwich side of the business that’s booming. “The meat sells like crazy,” Brown said. “We’re trying to do a lot more in-house stuff — a lot more pates — and they’re selling like crazy.”
Regulars drive the business. “It’s awesome,” Brown said. “Probably 80 percent of our customers come in at least once a week.”
The more customers return, of course, the more fluent they become with H.A.M.’s selection, which ranges from the likes of fresh sausages, pork chops and New York strip steak that look like what you might find at a grocery butcher counter, but come from free-range, hormone-free animals, to items that the non-gourmands among us might initially pass over — duck prosciutto, head cheese, pork confit, teres major steaks, tri-tip roasts.
Brown is especially passionate about the cured meats. The Browns spent years in Oregon, where Brandon served as charcuterie chef at King Estate Winery. He said he’s eager to do more of “the art part of it.” The trouble is, even working 10 or 11 hours six days a week, there’s not enough time. His dream, he said, is to find someone to run the Hillcrest shop, while he opens a separate wholesale curing facility. Meat-loving investors, make this happen!