Passionate butcher and charcutier Chad Lebo grew up near small butcher shops in the Pennsylvania countryside, where a passion for quality local products, heritage meats, and nostalgic food traditions was part of daily life. These early experiences planted a seed that would germinate and thrive in an unlikely place: Madagascar.
Lebo’s wife’s career beckoned the couple abroad for a year, but that year turned into several, and he found himself craving a taste of home in the form of cured meat. Referencing family recipes and the seminal book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, Lebo taught himself to cure bacon, ham, and sausage.
After returning to the states in late 2013, Lebo opened Cure, a tiny butcher shop in Fort Calhoun, NE. In this compact space, Lebo and butcher Beau Williams work in tandem to break down local animals and preserve them through traditional curing and smoking techniques that have fed folks for centuries.
In addition to fresh meat cuts and Faroe Island salmon, an extensive seasonal menu features traditional fresh sausage recipes from Europe, Africa, and South America; various European-style charcuterie; Italian dried meats and salamis; and various pâtés, terrines, and rillettes. To round out the larder, Lebo also offers fermented hot sauces, pickles, and sauerkraut. “The menu is seasonal—there are just two of us and a 16-page menu, so not all options are offered all the time,” explained Lebo.
Lebo sources Berkshire pigs, American Wagyu beef, and bison from small local purveyors such as TD Niche Pork, Little Mountain Ranch and Garden, Imperial American Wagyu Beef, Central Nebraska Buffalo, and Plum Creek Farms. Grits and grains come from Miller Dohrmann Farms, honey comes from Fat Head Honey Farms, and other local farmers provide vegetables, mushrooms, and nuts. Lebo’s passion is evident in his love for local. “Everything we source is exceptional, and we know the farmers by name. Customers also get to know these farmers and the products start to mean more as the overall impact on the local food community goes farther.”
Along with the scientific precision and historical knowledge necessary to execute effective food preservation techniques, Lebo has learned how to run a small business and to balance his obligations. “I think it is important to know there will be long and hard hours, but you still have to be strong enough to take one day to maintain a family and personal life to avoid getting burned out—it’ll degrade your customer service.”
Cure has won seven National Good Food Awards, some for items offered just once a year. “I think we’ve won the most National Good Food Awards per square foot of shop in the country,” Lebo joked. He further explained, “One reason we are especially proud of the Good Food Awards is that they are judged blind—judges don’t even see the name of the product, the only way to win is to be delicious, and even then you still have to get vetted for farm and workplace practices.”
Lebo relishes the satisfaction that comes from making a quality product and enjoys hearing customer comments tinged with a nostalgia that surpasses the taste and quality of his handmade items. His heritage recipes are influenced by his own ancestors, including his great aunt Helen from Pennsylvania, who grew a huge garden, putting up over 500 quarts of pickles, fruits, and vegetables each fall. For dozens of years, she hosted huge weekly Sunday dinners for 30 people, making homemade ice cream and serving the preserved bounty from her garden.
After 10 years, Lebo is in the process of moving from the small store in Fort Calhoun to a larger venue in Omaha. He is excited about being a part of a neighborhood, teaching more classes, and spreading the word that good food matters and tastes better. “It’s satisfying to see people who have taken classes from us that are years later still making their own cured meats or continued their learning. They are curing and using techniques learned in our classes and saw a difference in making something themselves.”
Lebo is overflowing with gratitude for the Omaha community and customers who have supported these traditional foods and local farmers for 10 years. “We wouldn’t be able to exist if there weren’t regular customers who spread the word for us. It’s allowed us to grow slowly and steadily, gaining loyal followers and people we love to see, not just customers but friends.” The space is expanding, but the traditions remain the same: simple and delicious, let the flavors shine through. And that book that kicked things off in Madagascar? It remains a fixture in Lebo’s workspace—greasy, smudged, smoky, and well-traveled.
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