- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

TRENTON, N.J. - Donna Beers and Pattie Weaver kept hearing the same complaint when their grown sons left their native New Jersey almost a decade ago: “There’s no pork roll here.”

Mrs. Weaver’s son, Mark, had moved to North Carolina when he joined the Army, and Jimmy Beers moved to Colorado for a job. It turned out that pork roll, a spicy pork-and-seasonings delicacy created in Trenton in 1856, generally wasn’t sold or even known outside New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania.

“My son lived on it morning, noon and night, and he was really having withdrawal,” said Mrs. Beers.

So after a couple years of hearing their sons complain, Mrs. Beers and Mrs. Weaver, then co-workers at a real estate appraisal company, started Pork Roll Xpress, a mail-order business meant to satisfy the cravings of former New Jersey residents. They ship only two brands of the fatty breakfast and sandwich meat, Taylor Pork Roll, the most popular kind, and Trenton Pork Roll, a milder version also made by Taylor Provisions Co.

In barely six years, the two-woman business, which started with a $7,000 investment, has grown to produce about $200,000 in annual revenue. This fall, the operation will move from Mrs. Beers’ home into a large building being renovated on her property in Mansfield Township. The two women, both 53 and now fast friends, are even thinking about hiring some help.

“Never in a million years did I think it would explode like it did,” Mrs. Beers said.

Customer loyalty is one reason. Roughly 90 percent of their customers reorder, and some have been ordering 3- and 6-pound logs of pork roll steadily since the business started in 1999, said Mrs. Weaver, an Elizabeth, N.J., native who now lives in Reeders, Pa., in the Pocono Mountains.

They have customers in all 50 states, but 85 percent of their orders come from California.

One regular is Newark native Hank Sturma, now of Corsicana, Texas. A finicky eater as a child, he said Taylor Ham — the original name — was one of the only meats he would eat, and some relatives in the 1950s even operated one of the many Taylor Ham stands that dotted boardwalks at New Jersey shore resorts.

The draw is the unforgettable but hard-to-describe taste of pork roll — something of a cross between Spam and salami. The exact ingredients are a closely guarded secret.

Pork roll is usually sold in fat, sausage-shaped rolls encased in thin burlap. Round slices can be fried or microwaved.

“It’s wonderful,” said customer George Foster, of Marysville, Calif., a retired sheriff and native of Lakewood, N.J. “As far as I can remember, I have never been without pork roll. We pretty much lived on it” while growing up.

After he moved west, his mother sent a 6-pound pork roll every Christmas. Four years ago, he found Pork Roll Xpress during an Internet search.

“I would be lost without them,” he said.

Mrs. Beers and Mrs. Weaver get hundreds of pounds of pork roll every two weeks from Taylor Provisions through a wholesaler, Dutch Prime Foods of Long Branch. They spend Mondays and Tuesdays packaging Internet and telephone orders of pork roll, placing frozen gel packs inside an insulated plastic foam container to keep the meat cold until it arrives at the customer’s door. A 6-pound roll costs $42, plus shipping.

The women recently added boardwalk-style hot dogs to their “menu,” as well as aprons and Tastykakes, a Philadelphia brand of snack cakes that also has fiercely loyal fans.

On the company Web site, www.porkrollxpress.com, customers have posted some of their favorite recipes, ranging from the classic pork roll, egg and cheese sandwich on a hard roll to pork roll quiche, stir fry, fajita and grilled dishes.

For Mrs. Weaver, who grew up in Rahway with frequent Sunday dinners of baked pork roll and baked potatoes, the best part of the business are conversations with customers elated to have found a way to get pork roll again. One recent telephone order came from a woman in her 80s who hadn’t had pork roll since age 17 and still remembered the taste.

Many share memories about eating pork roll and cheese sandwiches in Jersey diners and on the boardwalk — or order huge quantities to take to family reunions.

“We’ve had people tell us, ‘I’m strictly a vegetarian but I have to have pork roll,’ ” Mrs. Weaver said. “We think it’s hysterical.”

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