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(Photo credit: Matthew Kropp, Brooklyn East Photography)

After 25 years behind the butcher block at Southold’s Wayside Market, owner Pasquale “P.T.” Rutigliano, 62, is off the hook. Well, maybe not completely — he’s way too proud of his butcher daughter, Isabella Rutigliano (and has the craft of butchering way too ingrained in his DNA), to step away entirely.

Still, when the old-school prime butcher shop and specialty grocery store re-opens today, March 12, after their annual winter break, Isabella, 32 — who’s been quietly working alongside her father full-time for several years — will be stepping up as head butcher and proprietor of the beloved local meatery.

(Photo credit: Matthew Kropp, Brooklyn East Photography)

“You can’t fake quality – if you want to be a chop shop, [then] you don’t care about what you’re feeding people. That’s not ever what we’re going to be. And you know, people love the theater,” she says of cutting meat to order for their customers in front of their eyes. “We always say: It’s dinner and show! We’re going to keep a lot of the old but also improve and bring on some of the new. We’re all excited by that.”

The staples, from the famously giant sandwiches to the prime-meat, cut-to-order butcher counter, will remain the same, but Isabella — the only female prime butcher on eastern Long Island — will be adding sought-after craft items, such as more local specialty duck offerings, Frenched chicken breasts, more options for fresh offal, in-house dry aged beef, specialty sausages and some fun spirit-and-herb infusions that the young Rutigliano has been busily perfecting and honing behind the scenes. 

(Photo credit: Matthew Kropp, Brooklyn East Photography)

Another new facet to the business will be the boutique service of offering whole-animal butchering for families getting in on the trend of purchasing an entire animal for its meat, but who need a professional to break it down.

“We’re seeing more people buying in bulk — multiple families splitting an animal and being fed for the whole year with it,” says Isabella, “and that’s what we used to do!”

It’s a come-full-circle moment for them. Whole-animal butchering was a practice that P.T.’s own father did in his butcher shop in Center Moriches, before he and his son pivoted to become a wholesale meat supply and delivery service for a multitude of once-thriving butcher shops, from Brooklyn all the way to Shelter Island.

“It’s hard work – my grandfather literally broke down animals and whole forequarters all day long like a machine, and well into his late 70s,” says Isabella. “People don’t realize, but it’s tough work.”

For P.T. and Isabella, though, it’s work that’s more of a calling than just a job within the walls of 55575 Main Road. 

The building itself dates back to 1815 and, according to P.T., has operated under a multitude of purposes. It was a Methodist church, a gas station and an ice cream and candy store at different points in its history. But since the 1960s, it’s remained Wayside Market since its first owner, Walter Adamson, opened the doors as a grocery and butcher shop.

Eventually, butcher Kenneth Ramsauer who Adamson knew from his Bohack days — the supermarket chain that once dotted Long Island — became a partner. He brought in another Bohack alumnus, John Oliver. Eventually, Oliver’s son, Scott, came into the business, too.

(Photo credit: Matthew Kropp, Brooklyn East Photography)

In 1999, P.T. seized an opportunity to become a partner with the Ramsauers in Wayside. By 2001, he bought out the father-son duo and has been at the helm ever since. 

With over 50 years serving the Southold community under the same name, it’s not unusual to find fourth and even fifth generation loyal customers coming in for everything from a little weeknight ground chuck for meatloaf to a request for a grand Porterhouse or rack of lamb for special occasions and holidays. Sometimes, they just come in for advice.

“We still use brown paper, we grind meat fresh. I’m a real butcher meaning I learned from my father. I’ve slaughtered cattle, pigs, goats, chickens, rabbits – I’ve done all that,” says P.T. “That makes me very unique because I’ve done everything from soup to nuts. You can’t find anyone today who can say that.” 

Anyone except, perhaps, his chip off the old butcher block daughter.

For Isabella, the idea that she’d one day enter the family business isn’t so far-fetched, although it did take a while and a global pandemic to set her securely on her current path. Her mom, a chef who lives upstate, and her dad divorced when she was young, and she grew up toggling between their two homes, learning the art of cooking from her mother during the school year, and then working alongside her butcher dad in the summers. 

“As a young woman, my dad didn’t really push me to go into the business; he wanted it to be an organic choice and he just did his best to keep objective,” she says. “But I always loved it.”  

After college, Isabella entered the corporate world, but found it less than satisfying. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and her father needed help, she knew something was shifting inside her. “Timing is everything. I was bored behind a computer and behind a desk. I’ve always been a listen-to-my-gut person,” she says. 

Now, instead of analyzing numbers, her days are filled with learning the particulars of meat buying and purchasing, including stints going to the wholesale meat markets with her dad. “It’s super exciting. It’s like full-blown ‘Rocky,’ fast-paced and super early in the morning. It’s the floor of Wall Street for meat!” she laughs. 

She’s a parent now herself, and the notion that her own son might potentially want to be the fourth generation of Rutiglianos who own the business is a family legacy that she could have only dreamed of a few years back. “Legacy is everything to us,” she says, “and it’s an honor I get to raise my son in a business and in such a loving and precious community that’s family oriented.” 

For her proud father, it’s a much-deserved moment to take a step back to give his body a break from the back-breaking work of butchering. He says he’ll work in the shop still, but he plans to stick to holidays and a smattering of days in the busy summer months. But it’s also a time to admire the work of his offspring. 

(Photo credit: Matthew Kropp, Brooklyn East Photography)

“I am excited, but it’s emotional, too. She’s such a good kid. She’s so smart, and I should tell her more – she needs to hear that from her father,” P.T. says. “She’s doing a great job and boosting the business like crazy and has so many ideas.” 

For Isabella, the goal is to have fun with it, but also to uphold the family tradition.

“The legacy that my dad is entrusting me with is my biggest honor it makes me emotional really because this is his life’s creation; this store is an extension of our family and our family’s legacy,” Isabella says. “Most don’t know that he’s a pilot; he loves planes. So I use an analogy with him all of the time: You took the plane off of the ground, I’ll take it to the next altitude.”