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“Do you have a weak stomach?” asks Kevin Logan. “Because this is good stuff.”
The 25-year-old second-generation sausage-maker of Logan Sausage Company takes me, Taylor Gourmet co-owner Casey Patten, and Taylor PR rep Doug Rashid—all clad in white coats—into a big refrigerated room, where he starts unwrapping one of several giant cylindrical containers. Inside each one is 2,000 pounds of pork.
“This is what whole muscle meat shoulder looks like,” Logan says, revealing slab stacked upon slab. “That’s basically the highest quality, leanest part of the hog you can get. And so that’s all we use.”
Next we enter an even bigger chamber in the 12,000-square-foot warehouse on an industrial street in Alexandria, near Port City Brewing Company.
“It smells awesome,” Rashid says. “What is that, garlic?”
A grinder breaks down the meat, which is mixed with spices before it’s lifted like a Ferris wheel bucket and dumped into another machine, where it’s ground some more and squeezed into casing. The sausages here use no trimmings, preservatives, nitrates, or MSG. The links pop out onto a conveyor belt, where workers with blue gloves and rubber boots align them in foam trays that slide down to another machine that wraps them in plastic before they’re shipped out to stores.
“This is Casey’s stuff right here,” Logan says, bringing over a separate box with a custom order for Pizza Parts & Service. “Should we wrap it around?”
The business associates-turned-buddies—both wearing their caps backward—pull foot after foot of seemingly endless sausage rope out of the box, wrap it around their shoulders like a scarf, and pose as Rashid and I snap photos on our phones.
“That will be a good Instagram photo for you,” Patten says.
This is sausage you won’t mind seeing made—or, apparently, turning into a fashion accessory. (Don’t worry; no one will be eating the contents of that particular box on their pizza.) And chances are you’ve tried Logan’s sausages at some point, although you might not have realized it: In addition to selling links in Safeway, Giant, Harris Teeter, and other groceries and bodegas, the family operation serves sausages to dozens of restaurants throughout the Baltimore-Washington area from Clyde’s to Pork Barrel BBQ to Georgia Brown’s.
Sausage may not be the most glamorous of meat products, but artisanal varieties are increasingly trendy, with operations like Red Apron Butcher and Meats & Foods—not to mention the many restaurants that now brag about their own housemade stuff. But unlike these younger cousins, Logan Sausage Company has been grinding for 27 years.
Kevin Logan’s father, Cliff Logan Jr., was a VP for Giant Foods before opening Logan Sausage Company in 1987. (He helped open the Giant at 9th and O streets NW, which has since been rebuilt.) Itching to open a business of his own, a food broker pointed him to a facility in Alexandria that rented kitchen space to people who wanted to start food businesses—like an old-school version of today’s Union Kitchen—and large companies that needed test labs. That’s where he met an ex–Secret Service agent and his wife, who ran a company making soup and chili for local restaurants. The couple was looking for some cash, so Logan bought in.
In the same building, Logan also met a guy who sold chorizo to local Latino bodegas. One day, the chorizo maker decided he wanted to move to Miami and open a store there, so Logan bought his equipment and acquired his Argentine and Salvadoran chorizo recipes. Logan’s wife, Bonnie, another former Giant employee who worked for the National Grocers Association at the time, also quit her job. “All of a sudden, we were making sausage,” he says. There aren’t that many great sausages around, and I thought that people would like it if it had a wider distribution.”
At first, they would load up a truck with meat and drive around, trying to sell to shops without any orders. They got their big break in 1988, when D.C.-area Safeway locations stopped making their own sausages and—for about five years—started selling Logan Sausage’s products exclusively. “That’s what really got us started,” Cliff Logan says. The family operation now includes their two sons: Kevin Logan is sales and marketing director, and Cliff Logan III is vice president.
But the family has no desire to grow too big and become a national brand. “We’re going to make sure we never get to the point where it’s all about volume, because then you get into a situation where your quality becomes a generic type thing or a commodity type thing,” Cliff Logan Jr. says. “You can’t have that because you can’t differentiate yourself. You can’t give people the stuff that grandma used to have. A lot of people today like what grandma used to have.”
While about 80 percent of Logan Sausage’s business goes to retail, restaurants are where things are growing. Ten years ago, the Logans hardly sold to restaurants at all, but now they say the demand is on the rise. “Everybody wants something different and local and quality.” says Kevin Logan, who’s been working in the business since he was 14. “They want something where they know where it’s coming from, to be able to talk to the owners in the company. They can walk in and see what’s going on. There’s no secrets.”
The sausage maker now has more than 70 recipes for everything from Chinese to Polish meats plus 10 different chorizos, but the factory will also design custom sausages. Every restaurant these days wants to claim products that are just for them—whether it’s private label oysters, special sandwich bread, or their own wine. Sausages, it turns out, are no exception. Urban Bar-B-Que works with Logan to make chicken Sriracha and pork Chesapeake (similar to Old Bay seasoning) sausages, while Capitol City Brewing Company commissions a bratwurst that incorporates one of its porters.
“If you want to do something custom, it’s really tough to find someone who can stop on a dime, change what they’re doing, create something new, and do it for you that’s not in their typical portfolio,” Taylor Gourmet’s Patten says. “That’s why I love these guys.”
Patten and Kevin Logan met at the Bethesda location of Taylor Gourmet. “I think I was wearing a Penn State hat,” Logan says. Both are alums and started talking about college, which turned, naturally, to sausages.
“I’m like, ‘Listen dude, awesome stuff, but I have this sausage I’ve been using for a long time. It’s really good,” Patten recalls. “He’s like, ‘You’ve got to try mine. I went to Penn State, too.’”
So Kevin Logan later brought some sausage over for Patten and his director of operations, Robert Coppock, to try. “Shit’s good,” Patten whispered to Coppock when Logan asked what he thought. Then he turned to Logan: “Ah, it’s alright, man.”
It was good enough that Taylor Gourmet switched from Huntingtown, Md.-based Nick’s Sausage, now a subsidiary of a big manufacturer called Clemens Food Group, to Logan Sausage after the hoagie shop had been open for about two years. It currently uses Logan’s hot Italian sausage for its Church Street hoagie with sautéed onions, peppers, and sharp provolone. And when Pizza Parts and Service opened on H Street NE, Patten worked with the Logans to create the perfect meat topping.
“I love sausage pizza. It’s probably my go-to if I have one topping to put on a pie,” Patten says. “But I hate a pie that all of a sudden is covered in grease because of all the sausage.” So Logan Sausage helped develop a super-lean sausage that was extremely garlicky and hot, going back and forth three or four times to get it right. “Our Italian is pretty hot,” Kevin Logan says. “But I was like, ‘OK, we’ll make it hotter.’” When his dad tried it, he thought it was way too spicy—there was no way Patten would like it. “I took it to Casey, and he’s like, ‘Dude, it’s not going to work. You need to make it twice as hot.’”
Now, Patten has become not just a client, but a friend. As we sample some sausages fresh from the grill after the factory tour, I ask what they do when they hang out.
“Kev’s typically always a staple for a barbecue no matter what,” Patten says. “Because he’s always going to bring something good.”
Photos by Darrow Montgomery
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