Sparta’s Mohawk House Launches Pop-Up Mobile Butcher Market

Meat purveyor Pat LaFrieda and food distributor SYSCO stepped in to help set up an open-air market in the restaurant's parking lot.

Photos by Melody Kettle

“I’m not a restaurant guy, but I’ve done things in my life for the right reasons,” says Steve Scro, owner of Mohawk House in Sparta, “If I can create a thoroughfare for good to happen, then that’s good.” Not one to sit idle, that’s exactly what he did.

Following Governor Murphy’s March 16 executive order to no longer seat patrons at New Jersey restaurants, Scro pivoted and repurposed the parking lot of his restaurant into a socially distanced, open air “pop-up” market with everything from Tomahawk steaks to toilet paper.

The night of Murphy’s executive order, Scro, having just cancelled his upcoming St. Patrick’s Day bash—complete with the Morris County Police Pipers (all corned beef and cabbage subsequently donated)—could not sleep. So he put a call to his long-time friend and famed meat purveyor, Pat LaFrieda.

“After the closing of restaurants,” says LaFrieda, “we discussed how the general public was cut off from food. Together we thought an outpost for people to have access to the staples would be good.”

“Steve is a trendsetter. He did not want to take this sitting down, and I was empowered by it,” says LaFrieda. “I said, ‘Okay, Steve, we’re going to figure this out.'”

Together, they happened upon a solution; LaFrieda gave Scro one of his refrigerated butcher trucks.  According to Scro, “Pat said, ‘Keep it until this is over, just keep the truck.’” And Scro did. Parked right in front of the entrance to the Mohawk House, the Mobile Butcher Market was born.

Social media soon buzzed, and the calls came in. Customers place their orders over the phone, based off the menu posted on the Mohawk House Facebook page, and in a day or two, receive a call that their order is ready. Payment is often made over the phone and social distancing is respected upon pick-up.

Scro also brought in SYSCO to provide other staple items like fruit, frozen vegetables, dairy items, plus paper towels and toilet paper. Scro has also added local purveyors to the pop-up, like Jersey Girl Cheese, to set up shop in the parking lot on designated afternoons.

Since the inception of the Mobile Butcher Market, Scro estimates that he has sold approximately 35,000 pounds of meat, with chicken being the top seller. Every evening, Scro calls in the order to LaFrieda, who butchers meat at night, and delivers it to the refrigerated truck the next morning.

Pricing on the products have only a small mark-up to help Scro continue to pay his remaining employees, down from 70 to 10.  Price gouging is the opposite of what we wanted to do. Just wanted to get food to people,” says LaFrieda. “A virus can really hurt our country, but it won’t destroy us. Panic will destroy us. We wanted to alleviate that panic.”

Mohawk House is also offering a takeout from the kitchen, a service they never offered before, with a modified menu, overseen by executive chef Joseph Sanfilippo.

But how long can this last? According to Scro, “I’ll do what I need to do until I’m up and running.”

Mohawk House continues to be flexible in the face of the unknown, and are currently open daily, from 11am–7 or 8pm. Please check social media regularly for updates on hours and product availability.

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