Earlier this month, the Swinery—a West Seattle butcher shop and restaurant known for cured meats—changed owners. All seemed to be well in the pig pen. Then today, the Swinery set off a controversy involving founder Gabriel Claycamp, the new owners, the King County health department, and renowned moustache-possessor Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez.
The Stranger received a tip this morning alleging that health inspectors had shut down the Swinery. However, the department's website had no such record, but it did have an inspection report from July 15 citing the Swinery for "insects, rodents, animals present" and "improper cold holding temperatures," with a re-inspection to occur within two weeks.
New Swinery-partner Joey Brewer assured us that the Swinery was not, in fact, getting shut down, and that the only recent occurrence was a change in management.
Meanwhile, Claycamp (who has tangled with food-and-beverage laws himself) says he has been separated from the Swinery for about three weeks due to a fight with his business partner. However, the special food-processing authorizations for curing meats—what the Swinery is known for—are in Claycamp's name. Claycamp alleged that the health department came in yesterday to make the Swinery throw out the products that it was no longer allowed to sell, meaning everything except fresh sausage and fresh meat cuts. Claycamp hadn't heard about the health department's inspection report, but he described the whole situation as "big drama" and "all sorts of yucky." According to Claycamp, the health department had been sending the Swinery warnings for the past two weeks to stop using Claycamp's meat-making plans without him. Claycamp said he even offered to share his meat-making plans, which were his property, and to train new employees to get the store back up to code, only to be ignored. At the end of the day, he said, the new workers of the Swinery "just need education—it's not like they're incapable."
Plenty more helpings of pork after the jump.
Back to the Swinery, where Brewer had more to say. Regarding Claycamp's report that the health department made the Swinery throw out its meat, Brewer pointed the finger at Claycamp's charcuterie program, saying "I'm not 100 percent sure if [Claycamp] was fully approved to produce those kinds of meats," and that the new ownership "opted not to continue" with it, "just to be on the safe side." When asked more pointedly about the program, Brewer said this:
They were all done wrong from the beginning. They were experiments of Gabe [Claycamp]... When Gabe left, he was using a number of methods that the health department had advised him on numerous occasions not to use.
Instead of curing its own meats, the Swinery will now be focusing on local and sustainable meats, featuring Zoe's Meats instead.
The we got a call from Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez. He reportedly swooped in to save the Swinery a week and a half ago. "Everything was going wrong," he says. The new owners hired him to turn things around, recommending just starting over. Jimenez says he threw out the meats of his own volition, not on the orders of the health department, because he was uncomfortable with the "nitrates and nitrites," byproducts of the "very scientific" curing process. "How can you cure the meat without a Ph.D.?" he asked. How indeed, Mr. Moustache, how indeed...
Jimenez also said that he has suspended the Swinery's vacuum-packing operations, because they were "vacuum-packing without a plan," and that there are "not any kind of nitrates and nitrites at this time" nor ever again for the Swinery. He does, however, hope to restart vacuum-packing once the Swinery receives a clean bill of health.
As for the health department claims, Jimenez said "the relationship we have with the health department is very good," and that it was he himself who called for the inspection, to learn what needed improvement. Asked about the citation about animals, Jimenez said the Swinery needs "a screen door for the flies, nothing about rodents." Jimenez sagely concluded:
I have been training to do business, and especially the food business, training them to do more recipes, and sell at the markets. There have been a few little—I don’t know if intentionally or unintentionally—miscommunications with the old and the new owners, and I don’t think it is nice because I am stuck in the middle.