New Chop Shop Is a Cut Above

Photo | Mac Kennedy John and Nelcy Grande recently opened The Chop Shop Neighborhood Butchery in the Safeway Shopping Center on Darnestown Road.

Photo | Mac Kennedy
John and Nelcy Grande recently opened The Chop Shop Neighborhood Butchery in the Safeway Shopping Center on Darnestown Road.

The Chop Shop Neighborhood Butchery opened Jan. 25 in the Safeway Shopping Center across Darnestown Road from Quince Orchard High School. Customers are already posting to Yelp with great reviews, but one from Bill P. made owner John Grande especially happy.

The butcher is “like Sam from ‘Brady Bunch’ personified,” Bill P. wrote.

Grande laughed. “I want to offer that neighborhood butcher feeling,” he said. “I want people to come in, I want people to feel welcome … you walk in the door and people know you. You give them that personal service, they feel comfortable coming in.”

Grande is happy to offer suggestions. “I may not be the best chef in the world, but I can give you my opinion on recipes. I know recipes, and I know how to prepare things,” he said.

But unlike Sam’s butcher shop, The Chop Shop Neighborhood Butchery is a gourmand’s delight. In addition to certified angus beef prime (a designation earned by only one to one-and-a-half percent of U.S. beef), Grande and his wife, Nelcy, offer Bell & Evans organic chicken, pork and more exotic meats like duck, rabbit and venison. Popular sausages from Maryland-based Island Bwoy include spinach and feta and chicken with white wine and garlic. A lovely selection of pâtés, terrines and galantines from the California-based Fabrique Délices includes a pheasant with pistachios and fig pâté and a rabbit pâté with figs and brandy.

Grande draws on a wealth of experience working first at DC’s New Mexico Avenue Sutton Place Gourmet and later Bethesda’s Old Georgetown Road Balducci’s. “I started in 1996 with the company,” he said, “and by 1999 I was their meat manager.”

At the gourmet grocer (Balducci’s became a subsidiary of Sutton Place Gourmet in 1999), Grande said that he learned “the gourmet way to cut,” which is intended to make pieces of meat physically appealing and trim away undesirable portions. He brings that aesthetic to his own store.

“I tell people I could leave a lot more on (the cut), I could charge you less for it, but in the end, I back the product that I sell,” he explained. “I only put out what I would buy myself. I’m behind everything that I bring into this place.”

Grande wants to offer customers the same meat that he’s been eating for 17 years. “Balducci’s offers wonderful meat,” he said. “I’m trying to source out the same if not a little bit better if I can find it.”

All ground beef is made in-house from actual cuts of meat. “A lot of time I don’t keep ground lamb, ground veal, ground pork out in the case because the shelf life doesn’t last very long,” Grande said. When customers want these ground meats, he goes to his cooler and grinds the meat for them on the spot.

It’s all about freshness and quality. “If something doesn’t look good, I send it back,” he said.

A Montgomery County native, Grande said, “It always has been on my mind (to have my own place). With Nelcy, my wife, we’ve always had in a sense the same dreams of where we want to be at certain periods in our lives and our children are all a little bit older now—they don’t require as much attention.”

The couple chose their current location in large part because of family—Maurizio and Monica Calcagno, owners of Gemelli’s Italian Market in The Shops at Potomac Valley North. “We saw them come out here and open this business, and we spent a lot of time out here because their children are our godchildren,” Grande said. “The people out here are very welcoming, really nice. It’s so different coming from Bethesda where everybody is just ‘go, go, go. … We saw them develop this relationship with the neighborhood and we thought, ‘Why not? This is a great area to do it.’”

“Maurizio is my brother-in-law,” Nelcy Grande explained. “My sister is his wife and my husband and hers have known each other since they were teenagers. They went to middle school together, and they have been friends since. They consider themselves brothers.”

“I’ve known Maurizio for about 28 years,” Grande said. “We are best friends. … They brought my wife here (from Columbia) on a vacation and they brought her into my job and we met. She didn’t speak much English. My Spanish was very limited. But we met and we all hung out and we ended up falling for each other. Two years later we ended up getting married.”

The Chop Shop’s opening was delayed for a year due to issues with the contractor, but during that time Grande said he was working on inventory and spending most lunch hours at Gemelli’s where Maurizio would introduce him to customers as his brother who is opening a butcher shop. “I thank him for spreading the word,” Grande said.

For more information, call 301.337.6389 or visit The Chop Shop Butchery on Facebook.