First Person Singular

Pam Ginsberg, butcher, Brookville Market, Cleveland Park

Sunday, February 19, 2006

People spend a lot of time in the grocery store, and I see them every day. I know what they eat. And they want to talk to me. I know everything about their family. I have keys to their house. I have some really interesting relationships with some of my customers. It's like extended family. I am the butcher at the grocery store that happens to be in the neighborhood that happens to be unlike any other neighborhood. It's like a little "Cheers" up and down the street. This isn't Georgetown, where people don't speak to each other. Cleveland Park -- they appreciate someone taking care of their needs. And people should enjoy food as much as I do. [But] my waistline isn't cookies and ice cream. I'm scared of two things: a bald hairdresser and a skinny-ass chef.

I started cutting meat when I was 7 with my father -- my father had a meat counter in Eastern Market. I grew up in a family business, and my parents taught me at a very young age that the pillow that I rest my beautiful head on and the blanket that keeps my little butt warm at night -- my parents didn't buy that; the people across the counter bought that. So if I carry that with me no matter what I ever do for the rest of my life, I'll be okay. I've been doing this for over 30 years, and people say, "But you're only 42." That's right. I cussed out my first salesman when I was 10. My parents went down to Florida to see my dying great-aunt, and I didn't go to school for three days. My brother picked me up in the morning and drove me to the market, and I ran the business for three days during the week when my parents were in Florida. And I'm 12 years old. I'm running the business. I guess I knew then: This is not my job, this is my life.

What makes a good butcher? Sharp knives and good customers.

-- Interview by George Gonzalez

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