These Moms Are Making the Food World Fun
Erika Nakamura and Jocelyn Guest of The Butcher Girls share how the sausage gets made as they navigate growing their business and family with intention.
- Taylor Jewell
Two butchers fall in love; what comes next?
"Well, there are no accidents with two moms," Erika Nakamura and Jocelyn Guest of The Butcher Girls remind me when I ask how they've intentionally built a business and their family. And while, yes, it took a few extra steps to start their family, I'm curious about how they approach parenting and having a career on their terms. There isn't a straightforward solution, as it turns out; it's a beautifully messy mix of pivoting, prioritizing, emails while pumping, and babies in bus tubs.
We chat over pizza in the Brooklyn backyard they share with their 3-year-old Nina (as in Simone) and 3-month-old Baby Huey (of Huey Lewis and the News fame).
Both acclaimed nose-to-tail butchers, in 2018, Erika and Joce were running White Gold Butchers, a meat shop and restaurant that New York Times restaurant critic raved was worth a trek to the Upper West Side, high praise for a neighborhood known as a dining desert. Notorious for inhumane work hours and bad-boy behavior, both moms and couples in the food world are rare, so when they started their own thing, everything from where and how to set up shop to who does what day-to-day was open for reinterpretation.
Joce remembers, "Erika got pregnant about a month after we left White Gold. So we went on a babymoon to Italy for my best friend's wedding, and we got married two weeks before Nina was born, both wearing overalls, in our friend's backyard."
They moved upstate and started a sausage company that evolved into what Butcher Girls is today, a virtual butcher shop where customers can order a la carte, Omakase boxes based on their preferences or chef-driven series.
"Having a business together made it easier to have a kid together. We do everything together."
Joce explains as she carries a perfectly plated tray of mise en place outside, tidy bowls of arugula, ricotta, and pepperoni.
"When Nina wasn't school age, and we could just hike and cook in the yard, it was great. It was nice to be in a pod with my parents during the pandemic," Erika tells me. However, it started to feel less friendly the more things began to open up, and they craved the community they'd built in the city. So they did it again, moving to a new (old) town with a new baby. Now they're back in Brooklyn with Baby Huey in tow, growing The Butcher Girls operation to include a storefront in Long Island City.
"You know, he's a real G" Joce cozies up to Huey while Nina blows bubbles. She recounted his early arrival, "I needed an emergency c-section at 33 weeks. Our OB (who I’m truly so obsessed with and indebted to) sent Erika off to work but then everything happened before she got back to save Huey & me. By the time she got back I was in recovery high as hell talking about Newfoundland puppies and poor Huey was attached to machines in the NICU.”
The transition from one to two kids was a slow build as Joce spent her days at the NICU while Erika was home with Nina. "The NICU nurses said he must read the handbook on how to get out of there. We didn't think he was coming home for so long because they don't want to get your hopes up. Joce broke down a little bit one night, and two days later, they told her to bring the car seat the next day."
While we chat, Nina climbs on the outdoor table to sprinkle semolina on the pizza peel as Erika confidently stretches out the dough. She's the in-house sprinkler: shaved parm, shredded mozzarella, salt. "She's very into finishing salts. She's our Salt Bae."
Balancing work and home isn't static – it's taken adjustments to their business model as their needs evolve and customers' habits shift post-pandemic. And while Erika may have only taken two days of parental leave, the afternoons after preschool pickup are reserved for family.
Going from a restaurant group to a mom & mom shop has connected them more intimately with their community and allowed them to center families: almost everyone that works for them is a parent; they source meat from regenerative family farms upstate; they’re expanding their offerings to offer more things that are semi-prepared (and faster to get on the dinner table).
As Erika pulls the first pie out, still bubbling, the family gathers at the table. Joce shares what's on the horizon: lots of backyard dinners, Nina starting pre-K in the fall, and continuing to expand The Butcher Girls.
Lucky for me (and you if you're in New York), they're going to start hosting aperitivo at their shop soon, so we can all swing by.