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Paradise Locker Meats puts heritage pigs at the center of local butchery's future

Paradise Locker Meats puts heritage pigs at the center of local butchery's future.



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The processing scheduled today centers on a "cut sheet" based on Heritage's weekly orders from restaurants around the country. "The stuff is sold prior to cutting, as opposed to cutting and then shipping it to a warehouse and being sold," Martins explains.

The hog carcasses roll out of the cooler on hooks hanging from the ceiling, which run on rails that resemble skyscraper beams. A 230-pound Duroc pig is set aside for 715's Michael Beard. The Lawrence chef uses at least a whole pig each week; the headcheese is part of his best-selling item, a sopressata pizza with chili peppers.

The hog's headless body is laid down on the first of a set of tables arranged in two lines. The moment after the pig touches a white cutting board, an employee begins to slice it in half with an electric saw. The chefs lean in closer, snapping pictures with their smartphones.

"This is a really cool operation," Barber says.

As the pig passes down the line, fat and skin are trimmed off. Between tasks, the meat cutters, in white coats and hard hats, sharpen their knives, which hang on their belts. A whole pig takes less than four minutes to break down. Mario Fantasma calls the chefs over to see the only machine in the room. It's a belly skinner — a small conveyor belt that carries the bellies under a row of metallic teeth to peel off the skin immediately.

"We have to hand-skin," Neve says. He estimates that his kitchen staff spends the better part of three hours breaking down a pig.

"Everyone should have one of these," Harubin says.

Fantasma grew up in a hardworking family in KC's old Northeast. His mother, Vita, ran Vita's Café on St. John and Wheeling for more than 20 years. Laborers from the nearby Montgomery Ward came by the little luncheonette for her cabbage rolls, tenderloins and Friday lasagna specials. His father built commercial ovens for 30 years at the Reed Oven Co. in the West Bottoms. Fantasma spent his first years out of high school at the same factory, working a drill press and coming home covered in rust from the steel and metal shavings.

His introduction to the meat business was at S&S Meat Co., where he worked as a runner, pulling cuts and chops for the sales team. He did this for a year, until he had the opportunity to become a butcher's apprentice. He spent two and a half years learning to cut.

"I was standing all day in one spot cutting steaks," Fantasma says. "I wanted to learn more. I had it in my mind to have my own business."

During his decade-plus as a butcher at S&S, he decided to move away from the city and commute to work. He and Teresa bought a house in Trimble in 1993. "You talk about fate — there was an ad in the local paper that Paradise Locker was up for sale," he says. "It was exactly what I wanted."

They're the fourth family to own Paradise Locker Meats since it opened in 1946. It was a concrete-and-oak box back then, tucked behind Clyde's General Store. Deer hunters brought their kills to be dressed and butchered, and local farmers and ranchers hauled their livestock here. It doubled as the voting site for rural Paradise, Missouri.

Fantasma took over the business in 1995, and the slaughterhouse became a one-man show. The retail part of the business was a freezer in a room separated from the kill floor by an old wooden door. After school, Louis and Nick helped their dad clean up, the way he once mopped the floors at Vita's Café. "I wanted to make sure the boys understood what work meant," Fantasma says.

For him, work was 17 hours a day of skinning and cleaning deer carcasses, as many as 1,400 in a single season. That changed in 2002, when the smokehouse caught fire. The flames spread to the main building, claiming half the original structure.

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