Manatee's Toughest Jobs: This is the first installment in an occasional series of photo galleries that take a peek behind the scenes at some of our area's hardest-working employees. These are the regular people whose skilled and tireless labor help make the rest of our lives a little easier -- and, in many cases, a little more enjoyable.
By PAUL VIDELA
On any given day, as many as seven workers who specialize in preparing different varieties of raw and ready-to-cook meats, fish, shellfish and homemade sausage at The Chop Shop are constantly on their feet and engaged in a flurry of activity.
This past Friday was no exception as a crew of five, most of whom have been working at the family-owned shop for years, prepared orders for customers and businesses stocking their fridges for a busy and food-filled Labor Day weekend.
It's not a job for the faint of heart or absent-minded. The tools of the trade, from bandsaws and slicers to grinders and razor-sharp knives, are dangerous and demand experience, respect, deft hands and alert senses.
Hands get cold and numb from working with cold meats, and the tile floors can get wet and slippery as the ambient temperature changes
from freezer to fridge to counter area.
All the preparation activities -- cutting, slicing and sawing -- occur in relatively close proximity to one another, and Chop Shop workers have developed a sixth sense to avoid accidents while moving at a fast pace.
It's no wonder, as a momentary lapse of attention while navigating a tight corner or heading through the two-way door of the walk-in cooler could have disastrous results.
They constantly multi-task, always mindful of what needs to be replenished or replaced, and keep an ever-watchful eye for the waiting customer. Down time is nearly nonexistent, and even in the lull moments, orders need to be filled, the meat smoker out back needs to be checked and restocked, and sometimes the cashier or a worker in the deli or prepared foods section needs a helping hand.
But it's all hard work with a tasty end game, and everyone here will be taking Labor Day off ... while enjoying a delicious steak, perhaps?
The Chop Shop, a second-generation family-owned butcher shop, grocer and deli, first opened its doors in 1971 in Bradenton. You can visit it online on Facebook or at www.chopshopgrocer.com.
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