Sam Suchoff graduated from UNC in 2004 with a degree in mathematics and a long history of being vegetarian and vegan.
Now, he is the owner of Lady Edison, a pork collaborator business that buys whole hogs from the North Carolina Natural Hog Growers Association cooperative and sells the parts to restaurants and business across the state and country.
“The number one goal is to help move as many hogs as the co-op wants to raise, help put more good pork out there, more options to eat something that isn’t hog house factory farm,” Suchoff said.
The parts that he doesn’t sell, he uses to make quality meat dishes for his restaurant The Pig, located off of Weaver Dairy Road in Chapel Hill. About nine years ago, Suchoff opened The Pig with the intent of using meat from the animal welfare-approved NCNHGA that raises pigs outdoors with no antibiotics, hormones or genetically modified corn/soy.
After graduating from UNC, he was working at a barbecue restaurant called the Barbeque Joint before he eventually got a job at a consulting firm. He saw that the restaurant he used to work at was going out of business, but he didn't think that meant there was no longer a market.
Using his consulting connections, he decided to open his own barbecue restaurant and do it his way.
“From the time I was 13 until 20-21, I was either a vegetarian or a vegan,” Suchoff said. “The reasons for that are the same reasons that I’m working with the hog co-op as opposed to buying commodity pork — boxed, name-brand pork that’s raised in hog houses with antibiotics and all that junk. It’s just the flipped side of the coin, where before I didn’t want to participate at all, I realized I could participate by supporting people who are actually doing things in a way that I approved of.”
After opening The Pig, Suchoff reached out to Rufus Brown, a country ham curemaster who was running Johnston County Hams. Suchoff would transport some hams from the co-op batches for Brown to curate for The Pig. While Brown usually aged hams for six months, Suchoff asked Brown to age these hams that were fatter and had thicker skin for a nontraditional 18 months.
Suchoff said he originally called these hams “Sam’s Hams,” but he eventually came up with the name Lady Edison in honor of the turn-of-the-century inventor from Raleigh, Beulah Louise Henry, whom he had first discovered in high school.
“To me, it sounded like a good representation for the kind of tradition in North Carolina, ingenuity that both the hog farmers and Rufus were using in doing something traditional but doing it in the modern world,” Suchoff said.
Eventually, Suchoff said food distributor Southern Foods asked if he would start selling them pork parts. They approached Suchoff three times before he eventually said yes, and Lady Edison grew from just a line of country ham to include pork and salami that can be found in places as close as Weaver Street in Chapel Hill or as far as New York and California.
Suchoff said his business is only growing from here.
“I recently realized that there’s so much opportunity here to be putting a little more work into the pork myself — making sausage, making ham, making all types of stuff here in the restaurant," Suchoff said.
Suchoff recently bought The Bagel Bar, a business that used to be next to The Pig. He plans to transform the former bagel shop into an eatery that will serve coffee, deli sandwiches, homemade hotdogs, baked goods and, of course, a deli case with Lady Edison charcuterie. The new business, Deli Edison, will officially open its doors on Dec. 2.
In addition, Suchoff plans to rename The Neighborhood Bar, a bar he owns connected to The Pig, to Piggyback on the same date.
“That’s where Lady Edison is looking to grow now, to have a little bit more fun, to connect more directly with the community and the people who are eating the products and as always to help the co-op, the North Carolina Natural Hog Growers Association, find a market for their pigs," Suchoff said. "Because they want to raise pigs the right way, and I want to live in a world where that is financially viable."