Don & Joe’s Meats has been the place to meet and greet for 50 years.

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FOR 50 YEARS, Don Kuzaro Jr. has been commuting to Don & Joe’s Meats at Pike Place Market, where he cuts and sells meat, helps his customers plan dinner and gives directions to the gum wall.

Kuzaro’s butchery has roots that go back to 1906, when a man named Dan Zido came to Seattle from Poland. Zido worked at Frye’s meatpacking plant for 10 years before he and a partner opened their own butchery in Pike Place Market. Eventually, he bought out his partner, and Dan’s Better Meats grew to become the largest retail/wholesale meat market in Seattle.

When Zido retired, his sons-in-law took over, and Don Kuzaro Sr. and his brother-in-law, Joe Darby, worked for them. In 1969, they bought the retail part of the business and renamed it Don & Joe’s Meats. Kuzaro Jr., then a senior at Enumclaw High School, started working there on Saturdays and during the summers. “I was a clean-up-kid,” he explains. “You clean the glass and clean the equipment, and that was my start.”

Don & Joe’s Meats

Kuzaro segues into meeting his Japanese-American wife, Diana, with a memory: “Across from us was a daily rental, a stand that was mostly vegetables.” It was her father’s stand, and they quickly became friends. Kuzaro grew up in “the little white town of Black Diamond,” so meeting Diana and her family was his “welcome-to-diversity moment.”

After graduating from high school, Kuzaro took classes at Green River College, but soon was drafted, and served in the Navy on an aircraft carrier in Southeast Asia from 1972 to 1976. He and Diana became penpals and then began dating. When he returned to Seattle, he earned his associate degree and started looking for a full-time job. “But the Market kind of gets into your blood, and I liked all the interactions, and we both had a lot of ties here.”

Kuzaro remembers when the only buildings on Western Avenue were warehouses, and he depended on customers driving in from as far as Issaquah and Renton. Then one day, there was a big snowstorm, and he barely made it in to open the shop, but he had plenty of customers. That was when he realized how many people can walk to Pike Place Market.

Kuzaro loves the new neighborhood feel of the Market, but he wonders whether his younger clientele will continue to cook. “Or are they just going to want to order it online and have it delivered?”

Some customers come for items that are hard to find, like beef sweetbread, lamb kidneys, ground suet, skirt steak, freshly ground unseasoned pork or veal. Or, Kuzaro adds, “It can be as simple as that they can’t find anyone who’ll pull the skin off a chicken and cut it up for them. And of course, we, like most merchants here in Pike Place Market, we’ll just service the heck out of our customers. We’ll cut it any way they want, tell them how to cook it, how big a portion, what cut is best for what.”

Which is also why Kuzaro likes to hire young people with a cooking background. They already know how to wield a knife, and when someone needs a recipe or advice, they can help. Mostly he looks for people skills, because anyone working in the Market needs to “embrace the atmosphere,” he says with a chuckle. The fish market next door draws crowds when workers start throwing fish, and Kuzaro is happy to sell the tourists all the pepperoni and jerky they can eat.

At home, Kuzaro is the griller. He says you can’t go wrong with a bone-in rib steak: grass-fed, grain-finished, well-marbled, dry-aged in-house, seasoned with a Montreal-style dry rub made for Don & Joe’s. He says to leave it at room temperature for an hour, then grill it 3 or 4 minutes on each side over medium heat for medium-rare. Sounds good — I’ll take two.