MAINERS WE MET

After a year marked by ups and downs, Amish chef finds his happy place in Unity

Posted Dec. 14, 2016, at 6:46 a.m.
Last modified Dec. 15, 2016, at 9:18 a.m.

As we finish 2016, our thoughts at the BDN turn to the interesting people we met throughout the year. It’s been our privilege to share the snapshots of their lives, whether uplifting, tragic or surreal, with our readers.

Yet we know the story doesn’t end with our telling, and in fact, the story often changes greatly after we’ve told it. This makes “Whatever happened to …” a common refrain not only in our newsroom, but we expect, among the public as well.

That’s why, at the end of this year, we wanted to find out “whatever happened.” For the next few weeks, we’ll be touching base with several Mainers whose stories came to attention during the year. What we found may sadden, delight, or surprise. In all cases, we hope you enjoy them. You can read more of their stories here.

– Anthony Ronzio, Editor, BDN

UNITY, Maine — Matthew Secich and his wife, Crystal Secich, worked together to wrestle a huge pink pig’s head into the sink at their Unity business, Charcuterie, on a recent snowy Thursday morning while customers popped in to say hello.

Between the pig’s head, destined to become pork-jowl bacon, and the visitors, there was a lot going on in the old-fashioned space illuminated with the warm, flickering glow of oil lamps. But it was nothing that the Secichs, who converted and joined the growing Unity Amish community in the fall of 2015, couldn’t handle.

That became very clear in 2016, a year in which the couple seemed to be on a roller coaster ride marked by the highs of sudden fame for their store, which sells handmade smoked meat and cheeses, and the lows of a regulatory pressure that felt so intense that they contemplated shutting down the business.

But that was before.

Now, Matthew Secich, a former sous chef at the renowned Charlie Trotter’s restaurant in Chicago, and his family have settled into their happy place. They love the horses that have replaced their Chevy Suburban and Dodge truck, the customers who come in often have become their friends, and they have a collegial and warm relationship with the state health inspector who has worked with them since the spring. That’s when the Secichs went public with their frustration with food safety regulations they felt were too onerous and which were putting an unfair burden on their small business.

“It’s been a really great year,” Crystal Secich said. “We feel very blessed to be here. We just feel at home.”

Part of the whirlwind stemmed from a flurry of media attention that began last January. People from all over the country, and then around the world, heard about the store and were captivated by the idea of the Amish chef hand-grinding sausages by lamplight in a rural part of Maine. Matthew Secich and Charcuterie were featured in the Bangor Daily News, NPR, on public radio in Germany and in a newspaper article published in Japan, among other media outlets.

The effect on Charcuterie was immediate. It was even a little out-of-hand, the chef said.

“I could never have imagined,” Matthew Secich said. “It was mind-boggling to think you could have a business in Maine that brought people from all over the world. I feel the greatest part is the chance to make friends. … There’s so many people that come in, sit down and talk for an hour or two.”

Though customers might initially come to seek out delicacies such as maple bacon, smoked gouda, dried chorizo, house-made olive loaf and much, much more, Matthew Secich said he hopes they return for different reasons.

A sign over his wooden counter reads: “If you’re in a hurry, keep on going,” and customers have noted that Charcuterie is one of the rare public places that people put away their cellphones.

“When they’re in my world, my little shop, I talk to them. I ask about their children. It’s a relationship,” he said. “When people come here hopefully they find a place of relaxation and fellowship. And isn’t that what it’s all about?”

Charcuterie is located at 41 Leelyn Road in Unity. For more information, call 948-1777.

Read about more Mainers We Met here.

 

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