Sweet Cheeks Meats is a boldly energetic place.
From the first time I saw Nick and Nora Phillips at the Jackson Hole Farmers Market on Town Square at the beginning of the 2015 season, I took notice. Every time I check out their scene there are additional products, services and employees. Everything I have tasted from there gets a thumbs-up.
Nick Phillips grew up near Reno, Nevada. When he went to Chico, California, to attend California State University-Chico, he met his wife.
“We are both into food,” he said. “Nora’s family background is Italian. Mine is Chinese. We both grew up preparing and eating family meals. When we met we spent time in the kitchen. We danced, sang, laughed and cooked.”
Even during college years, the couple maintained the custom of creating meals together and eating with housemates. Sounds like a terrific way to grow a relationship. More people ought to try it.
Nick Phillips graduated with a degree in civil engineering. His first job brought him to this area. He was hired in 2012 to do mechanical and electrical work on the Palisades Dam. He spent three years tearing apart generators and replacing turbines for the hydroelectric power project.
While he was doing that the couple settled in Victor, Idaho. Nora Phillips taught yoga at Inversion Yoga and the Senior Center of Jackson Hole, where folks still ask her to come back and lead classes. She worked at West Lives On Gallery. She did a work share at Cosmic Apple Farm.
That work share brought the couple their first pig — a half pig, actually.
Nick Phillips decided they would butcher it themselves and, for three evenings after work, that’s what the couple did. They learned a lot, and when he left his job he did a three-month apprenticeship in Reno under a restaurant entrepreneur who had a large business with multiple aspects, including an in-house butcher shop.
With that apprenticeship under their belt, the couple gained the confidence to take a leap. As summer began in 2015, Sweet Cheeks Meats secured a spot at the Farmers Market. They started with one 36-inch flat-top grill. It wasn’t the most streamlined or satisfying production, yet their business tripled by the end of that first season.
The second summer, the Phillipses secured their business location on Scott Lane and worked on the build-out. Hiring two young women to help out was another new beginning.
Sweet Cheeks Meats opened in that storefront, its current location, on Nov. 16, 2016. At first it was open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Now the shop serves lunch until 2 p.m. and stays open only until 6. Evenings are the times when production is accomplished. The Phillipses have a team of anywhere from eight to 15 employees. Chris Phillips, Nick’s brother, has now moved here and joined the team.
Nora Phillips breaks away from her and her husband’s home — where she raises about a hundred chickens and tends to several big gardens — to be part of the nightly Sweet Cheeks production team. Having grown up with canning and other ways of seasonal preserving, she puts those skills to good use at home and work.
Together the whole team gears up for summertime and holidays. During high-traffic seasons their happy hour gets a rest. They look forward to bringing it back.
The Phillipses believe their future path will include sheep, goats and cheese making. Kendall Russell, the award-winning master cheese maker at Lark’s Creek Farms, offered Nora the opportunity to do an apprenticeship under his tutelage.
Brad Ledo is the chef who leads the back-of-the-house team creating specials for breakfast and lunch and stocking the display cases with excellent sauces, soups, entrees and even desserts. I found some vegetarian selections to share with clients, including veggie dip, Sasquatch cheese spread, spicy garden soup and chocolate pecan bread pudding. I used their dynamite chimichurri to create a vegetarian entree with three-grain tempeh and sauteed savory vegetables in chimichurri sauce.
Their philosophy is apparent everywhere. It is not only about team building, teamwork and refining their process. It’s about the whole hog. The ancient ways are combining with the present and the future.
All of the animals passing through Sweet Cheeks have been raised in the healthiest manner: We know how and where it is done. Every part of the animal is used, whether in the form of steaks, chops, roasts and sausages displayed and sold or the dog treats and stocks created with less prime pieces. The pork fat is rendered into lard for pie crusts and biscuits. Beef tallow is used for frying.
There is a butchering table behind the counter viewed by customers. It is a conscious act to remind the patrons that meat comes from animals. It’s not a commodity wrapped in cellophane. These products do not come from feedlots or anonymous sources. It is transparent. It is respectful. This is the full circle of life.
Sweet Cheeks Meats uses the full spectrum of social media to let folks know what the daily specials are or new menus and activities. Check them out. You will be happy you did.