WELCOME TO THE SMOKEHAUS

We smoke fish, smoke meats, and dry-cure salumi with creativity and care.

We are a unique gourmet specialty market and eatery located on Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota. Eric and company are just as committed to using local, sustainably raised meats and fish as they are to hosting plenty of friendly food conversations. Our eclectic little shop is filled with smoked fish, handcrafted smoked meats, artisan salumi, unique deli sandwiches, and other gourmet sundries.

We started out 23 years ago with the idea that we were going to offer a small, specialized service (smoked fish and imported cheese) to a specialized audience (those with the monetary means coupled with the right palettes). We had five employees (counting the owner himself) who took care of pretty much everything besides front-line sales (though he also did that from time to time). Our shift was one person at a time. We did not have a printed schedule. We would hang a sign on the door to take smoke breaks on the loading dock with the cooks from the restaurant across the hall, “Carpe Diem, Back in 5 Minutes.” We would call Eric if we broke $500. Many of those people are still customers with us, despite our decimated cheese selection and the throngs of visitors who flood our slice of a storefront and scare off some locals every season.

Over time, our little shop was changing. Our smokehouse, the heart of our production, moved onsite from 15 miles away, enabling us to make and store more product, and granting Eric the freedom to experiment with recipes that heretofore had been fantasies. He began to make smoked sausages, like plump, garlicy Polish sausages that expanded and split on the grill, or coarse-ground andouille, whose cayenne and oregano two-punch qualified as exotic in our small Midwestern city. The customers were intrigued. Soon came ham, which I now see was the gateway to everything—its sweet, meaty depths, perhaps in their simplicity, yielded inspiration for so many other products: bacon, pancetta, pastrami, pork loin, salami, and most profoundly—the sandwich. Regular customers would come in, expecting to try an aged chevre or smoked salmon tail, and we would eagerly wag a slice of saucisson sec or smoked turkey breast at them. Some would buy a half a pound of this, quarter pound of that, cut inexpertly on a 30-year old Hobart. Most would rave about it and carry on with their usual chunk of Humboldt Fog. Sandwiches, Eric reasoned, would be a great marketing technique for our deli meats—a showcase of our product that was carefully curated with the right crusty (and unsalty) bread and local sweet cream butter. “Try the salamini sandwich, only three bucks!” If a customer acquiesced, we each independently and discretionarily would slice a portion that we thought was adequate, spread one to five (my boss has a heavy hand) knifefuls of butter on a third-to-a-half of baguette, and hand it off, perhaps nested in a sheet of deli paper (but perhaps not), hoping the customer was smart enough to know how special this was. And they did, and it was.

We are still in the same tiny storefront, we still use the same brine times and smoke schedules for our fish. We remodeled the space to accommodate a bigger sandwich line and moved our offices a couple floors up in the same building. We learned to portion, to train, to communicate, to write menus, to take pictures with our phones and brag about our specials on Facebook so we won’t have to throw any of our precious proteins away.  We learned to never be afraid to charge enough money for our product and to pay our vendors on time. We learned how to order, write down recipes, and take inventory. But we take with us what we opened our doors with: we never underestimate our customers, we never abandon our co-workers, we never dumb our food or culture down, and we never let the dark side win. We always look to our food as the beacon—the answer to most questions, difficulties, and problems our business faces. The pure flavor of a tender flake of smoked lake trout, fresh from Lake Superior, brined gently and then smoked for five hours is undeniable in the face of hate, tragedy, madness, and chaos. As long as we honor this, we’ll be ok.