Market gaining a reputation for quality meats
Published in the May 13-26, 2015 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Staff Report
Dan Keith spends much of his day standing behind the Rocca’s Market refrigerated counter presenting behind the glass a carefully arranged selection of rib-eye, New York steak, filet mignon, fresh-made sausages, and other carnivore cuisine. His passion is to help customers find the perfect cut of meat for their barbecue or dinner.
The family-owned small grocery store in the heart of the village of San Martin has grown such a wide reputation for high-quality meat that people drive from as far away as Santa Cruz and Palo Alto to buy its products.
“If you go to Safeway or Nob Hill, you get a cellophane-wrapped package,” Keith said. “At Rocca’s, we have to be more personable with the people. We’ll cut the meat and we’ll wrap it in old-fashioned butcher paper. A lot of people come in and they look for my recommendation on what they want to have. They look forward to chatting with me and letting me help them make a good choice for their dinner.”
Keith is a retired contractor who came to run Rocca’s meat department during the 2011 holiday season when owners Dan and Tom Rocca needed extra help with the heavier load of customers coming in for their Christmas time dining. What was suppose to be a temporary job became full-time when Keith started revamping the meat department and bringing customers more variety and a higher level of options. Among the big changes was the sausages Rocca’s sells. Before Keith, the store only sold two varieties of sausage — mild and hot Italian.
“I like making sausage,” he said. “Jalapeño cheese sausages are my signature sausage. It’s super good.”
The store started selling this sausage with a Mexican twist, and customers craved the quality. Over time, Keith added to his repertoire in sausage products to include garlic basil, sweet Maui pineapple (for people who like a sweet treat in their sausages), the happy Hungarian, and Dan’s blend — a sausage that came about by lucky accident. (If a customer wants to bring in a sausage recipe, he’s willing to try making it.)
“Dan’s blend is my blend. It’s a funny story, actually, how that happened by mistake,” Keith said. “Guy came in and he wanted Rocky’s choice. Rocky’s choice was a basic beer brat. He wanted 10 pounds of it. I make sausages in 30-pound batches. I only had enough seasoning for 10 pounds and I poured it into 30 pounds of meat, and then I went, ‘Oh, my God, I have to improvise.’ So I blended the garlic basil and another one I have, the pepper-onion, with Rocky’s choice, and I explained to the guy what happened and he goes, ‘I kind of like this one better,’ so Dan’s blend is now one of my top sellers.”
Meat at Rocca’s costs a little more compared with brand-name supermarkets, but that’s because Keith purchases meat that is rated “choice” or higher. The extra money people pay is well worth it for the higher quality in their dining or barbecue experience, he said.
“People see the filet sign at $29.99 a pound. They can buy a filet for $12 and cook it,” he said. “You go out to a good restaurant and buy a good filet, it’ll cost you at least 60 bucks.”
Rocca’s has also become the South Valley’s go-to place for marinated meats and poultry. Marinades for the store’s popular tri-tips are spicy garlic teriyaki, wine and spice, Santa Maria, Bloody Mary, honey teriyaki, and the newly concocted black pepper.
When customers are getting their dinner steak, they can also purchase dessert. In March, Rocca’s meat department started selling fruit pies from the Gizdich Ranch bakery in Watsonville.
“It’s taken off like crazy,” Keith said. “By the time you drive over there to Watsonville and get your pie at the source, you’re in the hole unless you buy it here. People are super stoked if they don’t have to make that drive.”
People also come to Rocca’s for the personal service Keith gives to everyone who steps up to his meat counter looking for something special.
“I love dealing with the people, the customers,” he said. “That’s what I like.”