Justin’s Chop Shop, owned and run by North Shore native Justin DeMarco, will move to their brand-new, larger location at 71 Sunset Avenue in Westhampton Beach the week of January 16th. With nearly triple the space of the old spot, which was located in an antiquated strip mall on Mill Road, the new, 3,000-sqare-foot feast for the senses is poised to bring ever-more mighty meaty delights to hungry Hamptons crowds.
The new brick-and-mortar shop was once a bank back in the 1970s, built with sturdy materials like oak, steel and walls of two-inch-thick bulletproof glass—retrofitting it into a high-volume market was no small feat. “We literally took a building that was meant to facilitate the operations of a bank to a fully operational market with a full kitchen—two different animals. It was a monumental task,” he says. The building had also sat vacant for several years and the lot was overgrown and not maintained. “[It] was an eyesore in the middle of town,” says DeMarco. “I wanted something with some curb appeal.”
To bring his vision to life, DeMarco relied on his business partner and brother-in-law, Valentino Pompeo, owner of Valentino Pompeo Architecture in Belle Harbor, Queens, who spearheaded the new design, décor and layout. The two men met years ago when Pompeo first started dating DeMarco’s sister, Brooke. “Val’s attention to detail, his ability to mix modern design and still be able to pull off a warm feel is something that’s difficult,” says DeMarco. “Val crushed it!”
They kept the large bank vault, still visible behind the counter, and are considering converting into a dry-aging room for the beef in the future. They also incorporated some of the safety deposit box doors peppered in with subway tiles as past-nodding design elements throughout the perimeter of the store. The night drop box, too, is still visible outside the building.
DeMarco and Pompeo also collaborated with California Closets, who built nine total shelving and cabinetry units, with the anticipation of more once they settle in and get a real feel for the space. “I wanted the store to have a classy look of quality that I feel matches the quality of service and our products,” he says. “One of our units is one of the single largest units to be built by the company. I feel this look and the fact the store is not a mish-mosh of random shelving racks separates us from any market on the East End.”
DeMarco’s path to opening a butcher shop went a bit against the grain. His started out on what he thought was a clear path to finance, interning for a hedge fun at Walker Smith Capital during his junior and senior years of college, and then at Citigroup in institutional sales. But then came the financial crisis of 2008, and the job he had been preparing for after the completion of his degree was no longer an option. A stint with Bank of America as an escrow officer was timed with that company’s then-collapse during 2009, and he was laid off.
It seemed like an opportune moment to take some time away from Wall Street and contemplate his future. To keep some cash flow, he took a job at a local butcher shop in his hometown, Cow Palace Quality Meats in Shoreham. Its owner, Constantino Masotto, became a mentor and close friend, inspiring DeMarco to make a career shift. When he got wind that his friend Brian Dean of Westhampton Beach’s Dean’s Market wanted to sell his family’s 40-year-old business, his future became clear. “When the little shop in WHB came up for sale, I passed on the continuation of my education and dove headfirst into what is now Justin’s Chop Shop,” he says. “I haven’t looked back.”
Expect the laidback-yet-energetic vibe of the old shop to flow into the new Sunset Avenue spot, with DeMarco and his crew cranking tunes from ‘80s rock to reggae and even some funky jazz. “I wanted the shop to feel like a destination and place you enjoy being even when the lines are long,” he says. “I enjoy seeing people smile or laugh even if it’s at my expense. The staff genuinely enjoys being together and our customers can see that.”
Over the last decade, Justin’s Chop Shop became known for their chop meat with each pound ground to order. Their marinated skirt steak is their bestselling cut, likely due to their proprietary marinade, along with the dialed-in butchery of Alvin Maldonado. “I can almost guarantee no other butcher hand peels their skirt steaks,” says DeMarco of Maldonado’s insistence on laboriously hand-trimming the membrane from each steak. “Lots of shops tend to purchase the skirt ‘block-ready,’ which basically means ready to serve to the customer. We found [our] process …yields a superior product.”
Look for signature dishes at Justin’s Chop Shop like their gourmet sandwiches on freshly baked French baguettes from a bakery in Brooklyn, although house-baked bread is coming soon via the state-of-the-art combi oven DeMarco just purchased. Their Bell & Evans fried chicken is made using the same pressure friers designed for KFC for an extra crispy crunch. The shop is also bringing back Justin’s Burger Blitz, a house-ground, 4-ounce beef patty spiked with in-house chef Brian Szostak’s proprietary Belly Rub blend, slathered in old-school Russian dressing on a pillowy brioche bun.
“Between the brioche bun, old-school Russian dressing, and Chef Brian’s Belly Rub—another shop secret weapon—makes our burger a signature dish,” says DeMarco. While Szostak keeps Belly Rub ingredients a closely held secret, DeMarco says the one ingredient he’s sure about are coffee grinds from another local favorite business, Hampton Coffee Company.
His end goal with the new move is simple: to have a market that fulfills all the needs of his customers—fresh seafood, meats, groceries, sandwiches, and grab-and-go meals, with new and exciting additions to the menu rolling out over the coming months. In the spring, keep your eyes peeled for the addition of outdoor seating, beer and wine and pop-up events on the property. “The community’s support is without a doubt my reason for success. I fell in love with this village and its residents. I met my wife in this village,” he says. “My favorite thing about running and owning Justin’s Chop Shop is the excitement it gives me and knowing there’s much more to come.”