Located in the heart of Astoria’s historical downtown district, Smokehouse Butcher Block offers natural, minimally processed meats and specialty products. The shop has soft lighting and gleaming display cases that hold their locally sourced meats, house made sausage, jerkies and more. With a passion for great food, shop owners Nan and Jeremy Schoenwald bring new life and energy into the historical building at 125 9th Street along the Astoria Riverwalk.
“What did we have to lose, except everything?” Nan says off-hand in a joking voice as the married duo explained how Smokehouse Butcher Block began. Before dreaming of owning a butcher shop, Oregon-born Jeremy worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska and later moved back to Oregon as part of the Oregon Dredge workforce. He loved working on the water, but a debilitating injury that nearly cost him the use of his leg put a halt on his boat-based career. “It was right before I turned 30 and I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Jeremy explains. So, utilizing his life-learned knowledge of how to process fish, Jeremy jumped on an opportunity to become a meat cutter for a big box store.
After three years of hard work, Jeremy solidified his knowledge as a meat cutter and had become a manager of the store’s meat department. “We had always wanted to live in Astoria, we visited multiple times a year, but had always thought it was a ‘someday’ dream.” Jeremy says. So when a meat department managerial position opened up with his current job in Astoria, the married couple decided it was time to relocate to their forever home. Once here, Nan continued her 20 year career in property management, but also took up employment with Skipanon Seafoods along with Jeremy. “We had so much fun learning while working there and through working in different shops I realized how exciting smoking and butchering can be,” she shares.
The duo began to dream of someday opening their own butcher shop. Jeremy had the experience, and was evening selling self-created meat products at local farmer’s markets. “I got to marry my best friend, we love spending time together and we wanted to figure out a way to be together during the day while we work. Most people spend more time at work than with their loved ones so we thought very hard about how to work together and still survive.” Nan explains.
Then, the building that held The Rio Café became available. “It was about the location,” says Jeremy. “You can see the Megler Bridge, the Astoria Column, get foot traffic from the Boardwalk and downtown and it even has parking. And with the mindset of location, location, location we figured lets jump in head first, both feet and figure out how to make it happen.”
There was no time for a traditional business loan process, so the couple sold their worldly possessions, received help from family and friends, and put everything they had into opening the shop. “We literally quit our jobs at the end of March 2017, started planning renovations with help from the owners, took possession May 1, and opened June 21, 2017,” explains Nan. “We were working 12-18 hour days for about two months. Jeremy had about 30 different cousins come and help with renovations in a constant rotation. We had friends help, I had my family down with a young niece who put on her apron and tried to help where she could, everyone we knew pitched in somehow.” Nan was also able to secure the space next door for her self-owned business River and Coast Property Management.
A Haunting History is Preserved
The hard work of the Schoenwalds is apparent as you walk into the shop onto the 108-year-old floors that have withstood the test of time – fixtures and an original door that has lacquer bubbles from the heat of the 20th century Astoria Fires, a trap door that likely was used to shanghai (forced to join a ship crew) people through – the building that holds Smokehouse Butcher Block is rich with history and filled to the brim with untold stories.
According to Jan and Jeremy, the building is also full of unsettled ghostly spirits and apparitions. “It is positive energy, but this place is haunted and we see strange things all the time,” says Nan.
“While we were still renovating we were all in the front of the shop and the dog’s little red ball comes bouncing from the back, keep in mind the dog was laying at our feet,” adds Jeremy. “But the dog got up, caught the ball, went and put the ball down below an arch on the other side of the room and sat and watched for minutes.” Over the past year they’ve experienced other activity from tilted wall hangings, and jingling bells, to witnessing ghost appearances that seem so real it is easy to mistake them for customers. “Sometimes I see something in my peripherals and I catch myself saying, ‘Hey what can I help you with,’” says Jeremy.
Local, Natural Meats
Jeremy can often be found in the back of the shop inventing new products and trying new techniques for smoking. By learning the science of dry smoking, Jeremy has been able to create custom sausages and smoked meats without added salinity or nitrates. “We have a goal to source as local as possible natural, minimally processed meats,” Jeremy explains. “We are a specialty shop and want to find the balance between sourcing local and offering a price point that isn’t too expensive. We don’t use nitrates or nitrites and as a result you can taste the real flavor of the meat. There is such a science behind smoking and even cooling the meat down after smoking so flavor and moisture isn’t pushed out during refrigeration.
“We love what we do, it has been so exciting trying new things and when customers get excited it is easy to feed off that enthusiasm to rotate and introduce new things through the shop,” adds Nan.
In addition to creating top notch flavor profiles, their tasty meats are locally and regionally sourced, “It’s amazing to work with and support other businesses in the community like Melville Farms for local poultry, Astoria Brewing Company sells our sausages on their menu, Merrytime Bar and Grill will use our sausage for specials, and Buoy Beer has featured our sausage as well,” says Nan. “Honestly we love to collaborate with anybody we can all help each other thrive as business owners.” Jeremy chimes in that they love making contacts at the local farmers market, and even get all their spices from Pat’s Pantry.”
“We are so thankful for the community support,” Jeremey shares. “We would not be successful without our regulars, but tourists are icing on the cake.” Smokehouse now offers bagged ice for those traveling through town that want to stop for delicious meat.
Over the past year Jeremy and Nan have been giving back to the community that they love through donations of meats and gift cards to charities, granges, fundraisers and supporting the local theatre. They are also looking forward to celebrating their “One Year Customer Appreciation” event in mid-June. “We plan on having a street fair atmosphere with a band and drawings for prizes as a big thank you to our customers.”