Let them eat meat

Text Tiffany Hill
Art Ikaika Hussey

If you aren’t a chef, a hunter or a frequent fine diner, chances are slim that you have regular access to quality, locally raised and processed meats. Bob McGee wants to change that with Link Honolulu, his new farmers’ market sausage business.

When Meatball (the comfort food joint on Kapahulu Avenue McGee and his wife Erica ran) closed in August of 2014, the two hatched a plan. “Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, we thought, ‘why don’t we do it again?’” says McGee with a laugh. “But we’d do it on a smaller scale and see how it grew.” The next day they were making calls and developing a sausage and salami menu for Link.

McGee moved to O‘ahu in 2009 and soon made a name for himself first at the Century Center lounge Apartment3, and then at Kaka‘ako’s eatery the Whole Ox. While his menus focused on sustainable, farm-to-table dining, McGee is perhaps best known for his penchant in utilizing local meats—think the Ox’s 21-day aged toothsome hamburger, the tender pork shank, or its eclectic butcher case with headcheese.

Link Honolulu is a return to McGee’s protein-centric beginnings. “My first job was working for Bud the butcher at Tom Wahl’s restaurant in Avon, New York. To me, he was a hero,” he says. “I ground meat and I tied roasts; that’s what I like, it’s cool.”

McGee says he doesn’t consider himself a butcher, but his goal with Link Honolulu is to honor the craft and provide a consistent connection between Hawai‘i’s ranchers and their consumer counterparts. “I look at this with a whole-animal mentality, and think about this from a farmer’s standpoint,” says McGee. “You cook from your neighborhood; the food that grows near you tastes the freshest and is usually the healthiest.”

McGee and Erica are curing pork, grinding and seasoning meat for sausage links and cutting sides of beef in a rented commercial kitchen on Pauahi Street in Chinatown.

He works with organic Upcountry Maui rancher Beef and Blooms and Mountain View Dairy in West O‘ahu to get locally raised, grass-fed cattle and hogs to create his spicy sausages, savory salami and fresh meat cuts.

“It’s the perfect marriage,” says Beef and Blooms owner William Jacintho of his and McGee’s two-month partnership. “It takes a chef with a great mind to figure out how to use the carcass. He’s done it.” Roughly every three weeks, Jacintho ships McGee about 200 pounds of organic, grass-fed beef.

Currently you can find Link Honolulu meats at three Farm Lover’s farmers’ markets across O‘ahu: at Ward Warehouse Saturday mornings, Waimea Valley on Sunday mornings and Kailua Elementary School on Thursday evenings. “Farmers’ markets are a fantastic proving ground,” says McGee. “You can see what works and what doesn’t.” The links and bacon range in price from $7 to $11; salami is two for $12.

McGee recently set up his smoker and grill at his Link booths and served up hot foods to satisfy his chef inclinations, but says his focus is cultivating partnerships with ranchers and eventually getting Link into restaurants and in retail. “We want Link in more people’s refrigerators.”

For more information on Link Honolulu, visit facebook.com/linkhonolulu.


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