Mexican butcher shop opens in Brookline


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In October 2008, Jose, Gabriel, Luis and Pancho Berumen-Cruz came to visit a cousin in Beechview. The four brothers had a landscaping business in Indianapolis but it was not doing so well.

Their business was one of 300, all competing for clients who, increasingly, "decided they would cut their own lawns," said Gabriel's wife, Missy.

During their visit, they met their cousin's Mexican friends and drove around the city, inspired by what they didn't see. Where were the big-box Mexican groceries? Where did Mexicans shop for food around here? Weren't there any carnicerias? (Carniceria is Spanish for butcher shop.)

A year later, the brothers had rented a storefront in Brookline and last week, after three months of satisfying all the codes and regulations, they opened Las Palmas Carniceria, a new grocery and meat market, with Missy Berumen behind the counter.

In Indianapolis, she had worked at the registration desk in a hospital. The brothers have been learning on the fly, too. They hired Jorge Aviles to be their full-time butcher and brother Luis has trained with him.

They made a lucky swap to get started: A man who had operated a grocery in Indianapolis just happened to need landscaping equipment.

Las Palmas, at 700 Brookline Blvd., is now one of about five in the city that sells groceries from Latin America. All are small and none has gone as heavy on the meat as Las Palmas has. Its offerings include chili-marinated meats, pork skin in vinegar, chicken feet and fajita meat with peppers and onions mixed in, ready for cooking. The produce, besides apples, oranges, melons and mangoes, includes tomatillos, cilantro, cactus and habanero, poblano, serrano and jalapeno peppers.

The store stocks corn husks for tamales and harina flour and a lot of the same groceries you can find at mainstream supermarkets, such as black beans.

The inventory is still spare. Some shelves are bare. Two of the brothers made an inventory run to Chicago this week.

"In Indianapolis, they have Wal-Mart-sized Mexican grocery stores," said Ms. Berumen. "We realize this is not a Mexican area, so [while] this is Mexican-based store, there is room for more. We are happy to take suggestions."

Pittsburgh's Latino population, and Mexican in particular, has grown since Nick DiCio opened Reyna Foods in the Strip District in 1987 to corner the market for 15 years. The Census counted 11,166 in Allegheny County in 2000, and 17,743 in 2008, but some advocates have said many people are not counted, and the number of undocumented people can only be estimated.

Pittsburgh's first Spanish-language newspaper, La Jornada Latina, began publishing in February and has a monthly circulation of 6,000.

Besides Reyna, Beechview now has three stores that stock Latin American food products -- Tienda La Jimenez, Veracruz and the Beechview Market. Samantha and Saul Franco opened a second Tienda La Jimenez in Oakland in September.

The Berumen-Cruz brothers looked for a location in Beechview, but none of the available locations was deep enough, said Gabriel. Las Palmas occupies what used to be a Blockbuster Video store.

The word of mouth is spreading. "Even Americans who come in say this is something they need here," said Ms. Berumen.

When Kathy Borelli walked in the other day, her face transformed, from pinched and red in the blowing snow to a glow. "Isn't this wonderful," she said, walking past the cashier's station, down an aisle of rice and beans and back to where Mr. Aviles and Luis Berumen-Cruz stood behind a panoply of meats. "Oh, to have a butcher," she said. "Thirty-five years ago, there were three butcher shops, and there was nothing you couldn't get on the boulevard.

"This is wonderful, and even the produce. The other day I needed parsley and I had to get in the car."

She smiled at the butchers and said, "I'll get tonight's dinner."




Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her City Walkabout blog at post-gazette.com/localnews.


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