‘Making it’ as a meat cutter
“All of my mom’s prayers have been answered,” says Thomas Tangaro.
He’s just steps from the meat case he proudly restocks each morning when he gets in at 5 a.m.
I was on a bit of a working vacation when I dropped in mid-morning, the 36-year Foodland meat manager already halfway through his shift at the Pupukea, Hawaii, store. He’d already made his first and second batches of poke (a locally popular raw fish salad, served in the deli), placed orders and started cutting.
Thomas smiles at the memory of his mom lighting a candle and clutching her rosary, her 10 sons and three daughters on her mind. She knew they’d need a little faith—there were no easy breaks for the children of Filipino immigrants.
The Tangaro kids used to clean the school cafeteria to earn a token for lunch the next day. By 14, Thomas and his brothers each had jobs. His first was in the small packing plant where his dad worked, and it was a stepping-stone to his current position.
“I love Foodland,” he says with the same emotion he might use to talk of his wife of 39 years, four kids and 15 grandkids. “What other company is going to take care of you and your family for 36 years?”
In just five months he made journeyman, a leap that typically takes a couple of years.
He simultaneously gave me a tour of his space while greeting customers, suppliers and fellow employees with the same warm smile and called their names. In between, he told me about one of the biggest changes he’s seen over the years: the switch to the Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB®) brand in 2008.
“I thought we were going to have another flop. We went through so many suppliers. Now I am going to retire on this.”
“We got into CAB and we just grew. It’s so easy to talk about the product.”
Tourists and locals come in to buy cuts to BBQ or grill on the beach. The famous Banzai Pipeline is just down the road. That gives him a chance to explain about CAB’s 10 carcass specifications and quality that sets the product apart, noting that his competitors “don’t have meat like us.”
The visitors usually come for middle meats, like strips and ribeyes, regardless of what is on sale.
“They don’t look at the yellow signs and buy, they just buy,” he says.
And as they buy, he cuts and restocks.
It’s a lot for one man to do. He’s looking toward retirement, but doesn’t know what comes next.
“I’ve dedicated my life to it,” he says.
My camera lens fogs up as we move off the retail floor. The smell of fresh meat mixes with poke seasonings. Even the meat cooler in Hawaii feels a bit exotic, but the stories he tells of his father sound a bit like a rancher and his son.
“We used to sit out in the parking lot and drink a beer at the end of the day and he would say he was so proud of me,” Thomas says.
It makes sense. Thomas’s career highlights a love of the trade, one that has supported his family through the decades. His siblings have their own successes to note.
“I never thought I’d come this far in life,” Thomas admits.
But Mary Tangaro never doubted. She’d prayed for it.
May your bottom line be filled with black ink (and your heart full of memories as moving as these),
PS–Come back tomorrow where I’ll introduce you to fellow Foodland meat cutter Patrick Ambrosio.