New Face at Montecito Village Grocery
Customers at Montecito’s quaint upper village grocery store may notice a new face behind the meat case: Don Fortin is the store’s new meat manager and butcher.
“I have big shoes to fill,” he told us during a recent visit. Fortin was brought on the team to fill the position left by longtime butcher Tony Perocco, who retired this summer after 41 years at the shop.
“He wanted to leave quietly and without fanfare,” Fortin told us.
Grocery owners Roxy and Mike Lawler knew the vacancy left by Perocco would be a tough position to fill, as the longtime butcher had quite the legacy; he was the face of the store for decades before the Lawlers took ownership in 2017. For months the owners fretted about who to hire, finally deciding to bring Fortin out from their Aspen grocery store, Roxy’s Market.
“It was an easy decision for me,” said Fortin, who has been in the grocery business for years after learning his craft at an Independent Grocers Alliance (IGA) store in Florida before moving on to several Whole Foods stores in the Boston area and then Roxy’s Market in Aspen, Colorado.
“This career has given me the chance to travel and live multiple places, and Santa Barbara is an incredible next location,” he said, adding that growing up in northern New Hampshire gave him his fair share of cold weather. “I never need to see snow again,” he laughed.
Fortin has his work cut out for him, being tasked with managing the store’s 24-foot meat case, which is relatively large for the size of the small shop. The meat counter is 100% full service, meaning there is no separate side case for already packaged meats; each order is picked by the customer and packaged by Fortin on the spot. Between customer orders, Fortin is cutting and preparing all the offerings, which include a wide selection of fresh fish, prime beef, chicken, lamb, sausages, pre-marinated and seasoned meat, double smoked bacon, and more.
“Everything is prepared in-house, multiple times per day,” he explained.
Fortin spent a month training with Perocco prior to his retirement, in an effort to meet customers and learn the ins and outs of the meat counter. “He taught me how to make all the items he’s been preparing for years, including the spinach and feta stuffed chicken, which is an all-time customer favorite,” he said. The new butcher says he intends on keeping the product offering the same, while bringing in new items he knows the store’s customers will love.
“There are lots of different kinds of ground meats and steaks that I know will catch on,” he said.
Fortin says the shop’s upcoming remodel will make the meat department larger and better and will allow him to offer a side case for customers to pick up pre-packaged meat.
“I’m looking forward to that,” he said.
The Lawlers own successful independent grocery stores in Aspen, Colorado, and Big Sky, Montana, in addition to the Montecito shop. The out-of-state stores, both called Roxy’s Market, are known for their emphasis on healthy and natural specialty products, in addition to being full service grocery stores. The couple first discovered Montecito several years ago, when their daughter, Chelsea, was attending Brooks Institute. Previously splitting their time between Aspen and Big Sky, they quickly fell in love with the community and bought a home, and had dreams of running a third store here. Montecito Village Grocery, which has been in its current location for over 60 years, was the perfect fit for them. Chelsea helps run the store with general manager Gilbert Raya, while the couple’s other daughter, Courtney, runs their store in Aspen.
“It’s run by a family, and it feels like family,” Fortin said of the comradery among the staff.
Fortin says he is looking forward to getting to know more of the shop’s customers, most of whom are Montecito locals.
“People have a strong relationship with their butcher,” he explained. “It’s a trust thing. Even though they miss Tony, they’ve made me feel welcome, and I’m grateful for that.”