Armandino Batali Talks About Salumi's Start

By Leslie Kelly  |  November 27, 2013
Credit: Leslie Kelly

We’re so thankful Armandino Batali started the artisan cured meat revolution in Seattle in 1999 with the opening of the now-legendary Salumi. He got us hooked on European-style charcuterie served in a long, skinny spot located steps away from the spot where his grandfather ran a grocery store. While he’s no longer involved in running the wildly successful restaurant-slash-booming cured meat production business - his daughter, Gina, and her husband, Brian D’Amato have been at the helm for more than a decade - Batali still has a full plate. Zagat Seattle recently interviewed the food pioneer about Salumi’s start and his goals for the future.

Zagat Seattle: How did a retired Boeing engineer get Salumi going?

Armando Batali: When I was working for Boeing, we moved to Spain in 1977 and got to experience a different kind of lifestyle. We got there two days after Franco died, we saw the whole transition to democracy. Over there, we learned everything is done on friendship and care. Friends invited us to their family farm in southern Spain. We’d go down there in the fall and they’d kill six pigs and we’d share in every step of the the process from the slaughtering to making sausage. Everything. You’d use every part of the pig and share everything with the 35 workers on the farm. It was a lot like when I was a kid, growing up in the Yakima Valley. The whole culture was about feeding each other, taking care of each other. When we came back to Seattle, we wanted to bring some of that culture back here.

Zagat: How did you decide to go into the space in Pioneer Square?

AB: It was kitty-corner from where my grandfather’s first store was. He had Merlino’s Imports at 318 Main, and the place on Third and Main was about as close as we could get. The real estate broker asked, what the hell do you want that for? We signed the lease in 1996 or 1997 and opened in 1999. It took us a couple years to build it out. In the beginning, we did all the work in the space by the front window. We’d go down there and work at three in the morning because we were so busy. Salumi salami was the first thing we sold. These are all our recipes. When we were in Europe, we tasted 4 million salamis. We created different flavor profiles, using ginger, making the mole.

Zagat: Who was the first chef to buy from Salumi?

AB: It was Jackie at The Pink Door. It was great. We thought we might really be on to something.

Zagat: When did things really take off?

AB: In the beginning, we kept kind of irregular hours, and people thought of us as more of a meat market. One Friday after we closed, Fred Brack (author of Tastes of Washington) came knocking at the door. He wrote about us and it was the greatest thing in the world. Then, he brought (the late newspaper columnist) Emmett Watson in and he wrote about the meatball sandwich. It was a good story, from the heart. That really changed everything for us. That, and the Mario [Batali] connection.

Zagat: Who’s the biggest customer now?

AB: We’re probably making 2,500 pounds a week, which is small for a salami factory. When you cure that out, it’s probably more like 1,800 pounds when it’s dried. Eataly is a very big customer and probably going to get bigger. They’re opening in Chicago next month.

Zagat: What’s on your plate now?

AB: I’ve been working to help establish the Angelo Pellegrini Foundation, to honor the work of the first person who wrote about the lives of Italian-American families. Here was this Italian who was head of the English department at the University of Washington. He captured the magic of our way of life, of keeping a garden and feeding the family. The table was a very important part of life. He wrote about it so naturally, preserving the history of a whole bunch of Italians in this area. We tried to emulate those values with Salumi. Angelo really was the father of sustainability, living it, long before people had even heard of that word.

I’m also on the board of trustees at St. Martin’s College, and have been focused on hospitality. Mario has been out for fundraisers and Guy Fieri. This year, Michael Symon was here. We’re teaching the concept of care for your eating partner, for people you serve. It’s not just about the flavors on the plate, but the care you put in creating the whole experience. It’s really about caring for your customers.