23 Jan Old recipes come to life at the new Sisters Meat and Smokehouse
Apinch of retired fire chief, a dash of construction supervisor and a generous amount of hormone and antibiotic-free prime cuts: the recipe for Sisters Meat and Smokehouse. This concoction began forming five years ago when Sutherlin native Brody Waller, who’d been making a living in construction in Alaska, decided to take six months in Oregon to experiment with meat smoking. Although it might seem like a leap from construction to the culinary arts, you could say he was joining the “family business.” Since the early 1900s, various branches of the Waller family tree, including Brody’s father and uncle, have been smoking and cutting meats. Now it was his turn.
He started small, experimenting and doling out the results to friends and relatives over the holidays. “In about two years, Brody’s Christmas baskets evolved from ‘oh, cool’ to ‘when is the next batch coming?!’” says Jeff Johnson, whose brother is married to Waller’s cousin. Not wanting to see talent wasted (and getting desperate for a year-round supply), Johnson and his wife Kay made a proposal: they would buy a building and finance a meat smoking business, and Brody and his brother Wade, who had honed his meat cutting skills at a major grocery store, would work their way into ownership. “Back a generation, owners commonly found a way for key employees to earn their way into owning the business,” explains Johnson of this decision. “Brody and Wade deserve it, will work hard for it and that’s good for our customers and us, ensuring we are in Sisters for a full generation at least.”
For Johnson, who was fire chief in Tualatin Valley for 32 years, the meat smoking industry is new territory. “Guess I couldn’t get the ‘smoke’ out of my system!” he quips. Although he has no ties to foodservice, he felt confident that the same leadership principles he was accustomed to in tight-knit communities would apply. “With business in a small town, my philosophy is simple: ears open, mouth shut.” He’s also spent years traveling (and eating) internationally for various nonprofits and in his capacity as president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (2009-2010), the highest attainable position for fire personnel. “Any time I travel, I seek out the most unique and high-quality establishments I can find,” he says. “I’m drawn to family-owned and run businesses.”
With the Waller boys on board, the family-run aspect was covered, so the Johnsons set their sights on finding a memorable location. They settled on a quirky barn-like structure in downtown Sisters that had once served as a grocery store and most recently a warehouse for a nonprofit. “I liked its location just off the main drag, and I liked that it looked like a barn,” says Johnson. But the building didn’t come in mint condition. “We put in all new wiring and plumbing and had to saw off the back third of the building and put in new concrete to give ourselves enough space,” explains Jeff. Once the structure was sound, Johnson brought in his sister-in-law Susie (the Waller boys’ cousin) for the finishing touches. They began renovations on November 1, 2015, and didn’t open until August 5, 2016.
From the outside, Sisters Meat and Smokehouse looks like it was plucked from a postcard picture of the countryside, with red paint and white trim to match its barn feel. The space begins with an outdoor seating area at the front of the building. A covered patio shelters a mixture of chairs, built-in benches and tables emblazoned with the shop’s cattle head logo, where folks can enjoy a sandwich and a locally-brewed draft. Through the door, the aroma of smoked meats and spices saturates the air, enticing guests toward the nearly wall-to-wall case boasting an array of prime cuts, jerkies and sausages. “I always say that smell is the most powerful anti-fasting agent known to man,” jokes Johnson.
On either side of the door are a smattering of tables, with extra bar seating looking out the front windows. The space has the ambience of a chic bistro but feels rich with history. That’s because Susie designed the interior as an homage to her grandfather Jack Culver, owner and butcher at the Culver Store in Sutherlin in the early 1900s. Working from an old picture of the original store (on display in the shop), she combined those details with the barn-like bones of the building to create a unique setup at once historical and modern. Corrugated metal lines the walls, warmed up by wood accents and natural light. Old meat smoking equipment adorns the walls and hangs from the ceiling—authentic pieces handed down from grandpa Jack. Johnson is particularly fond of the meat scale by the register. Above the counter, where an office occupies a partial second story, Susie pulled the barn look inside—faux hayloft doors and all.
Johnson’s commitment to a family-run business is rivaled only by his dedication to local sourcing. Most of their beef comes from Simon’s Ranch in Madras, and they buy local for other products whenever possible. Sisters Meat and Smokehouse has the staples: steak, veal, chicken, turkey, pork, lamb and an array of jerky, salami, sausage and deli lunch meats. But there are also some surprises, like quail, duck, a selection of fish and wild game. All are cured and smoked on-site by Brody and sliced by Wade.
If you can’t wait to get home, the Smokehouse has a sandwich menu that shows off their meats and cheeses. For a traditional choice, the smoked turkey is tasty, topped with their smoked gouda. The cotto salami sandwich is a spicier option, with meat stacked an inch thick, pepper jack cheese, pepperoncinis and black olives served on a hot brioche bun. Finally, the sourdough bread of the grilled ham and cheddar offers a wonderful counterpoint to their melt-in-your-mouth ham. Even their chef’s salad is packed with smoked turkey and ham and a variety of cheeses. Each sandwich comes with a side of potato salad or coleslaw.
Without a doubt the meats are always the centerpiece of the Smokehouse’s lunch bill, but they also have eight local brews on tap from brewers like Crux, GoodLife, Boneyard and more to compliment their hardy selection of food. “In my view, we intentionally built this business in Sisters with an eye toward not competing with other small businesses but adding to the depth of the community,” says Johnson. For meat lovers looking for a little something more than the standard grocery store fare, somewhere with a welcoming atmosphere and family history to boot, Sisters Meat and Smokehouse is the prime cut.
Sisters Meat and Smokehouse
110 S Spruce St
Sisters, OR 97759