“Our shop is like a mix of old-fashioned operations and very modern techniques,” Gebrayel said. A 1992 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Gebrayel was the master chef at Dunwoody Country Club and TPC Sugarloaf before putting his charcuterie talents to the ultimate test by opening Heywood’s with John Kenny — also known as “J.K.” — three weeks ago in the East Lake Shopping Center off Roswell Road, right next door to the Wild Wing Cafe.
Kenny has owned the Wild Wing Cafe for 16 years and said he hopes the shop will spawn more specialty food stores in the retail center and make the center a hub for locally grown food made by trained and talented hands.
“Our dream is to make this shopping center a destination for quality foods. It’s centrally located, and really has that potential to get back to that New York-style of grocery shopping, where you’d go one place to get fruit, another to get fish, then stop by the bakery and the butcher shop. The mainstream grocery stores killed that kind of specialty shopping, but I think a lot of people want to get back to eating quality, local foods. And our lease is for 10 years, so we’re not going anywhere,” Kenny said.
The shop, whose motto is “No MSG, no phosphates ever!,” offers 12 different sausages wrapped in natural casing, ranging from the spicy, Spanish chorizo to the “Roselle” — a medium-hot sausage made with white wine and pecorino, asiago and parmesan cheeses and named after Kenny’s wife. There are several windows inside and outside of the shop where window shoppers can watch the sausages being made. The shop also has a smoker, and offers 22 different options of smoked meat, from pancetta to bologna to trout.
Kenny said Heywood’s is the only shop in the state that cures its meats using natural products with no chemicals or nitrates. The process is called “uncured,” Gebrayel said, in which he uses naturally occurring nitrates found in vegetables such as celery and beets rather than sodium nitrate and other chemicals. His salame are also fermented in-house, in which Gebrayel said bacteria are added, which causes the pH levels to drop and prevents botulism (it also gives it that red coloring).
Gebrayel said making uncured meats is more risky than using the chemicals found in most meat, but that the shop can guarantee the safety of the meats because “we know what we’re doing. A young child, a pregnant woman, anyone can eat our meats without the fear of chemicals.”
Prices can be higher for some foods than you may find in a large retail grocery store, Gebrayel said, but many of their meats are actually cheaper because there is no middleman or distributor to pay as opposed to the big chains. For example, Kenny said the shop’s bratwurst goes for about $4.50 to $4.75 a pound, while those found in grocery stores are typically about $5 a pound. The meat comes in, is prepared and is sold — sometimes on the same day, Gebrayel said, adding that Georgia imports 80 percent of its food to be sold in grocery stores — most of that being meat.
“We understand this probably isn’t for everyone, but for those people who want a friendly place to go and good, quality products that are farmed locally and made locally, they’ll like it here. And the more money you spend supporting local farms and local businesses, the more jobs and money that stays in the state,” Gebrayel said.
Oliver Halle of east Cobb said he and his neighbors have been salivating over fellow neighbor Gebrayel’s meats for years and visited the shop for the first time on Saturday.
“He is a true craftsman of the trade,” Halle said.
“Everyone knows that if he’s cooking his meats, you want to be there. I’ve had his homemade sausages, pastrami — and I’m from New York, so good pastrami like his is a nice treat. And I think it’s important to contribute to our community. When you buy from local merchants, not only are you looking after everyone in your own community, but also you’re establishing relationships with your merchants. The only thing he’s missing is the sawdust on the floors,” Halle said, with a laugh.