Link Lab: Handmade Sausages in Maple Leaf
A Microsoft project manager turned meat caser adjusts to life outside his garage.
When I first visited Link Lab’s new Maple Leaf digs, the spicy, dry aroma of roasted coriander permeated the air while a shining new meat grinder churned noisily. David Pearlstein hovered over a tub of ground turkey and massaged spices into the meat. Since founding his sausage company in January 2011, he has quietly become a favorite supplier for local restaurants like Sand Point Grill and grocery stores like PCC and sources his meat from farms around Washington and Oregon only after a personal visit.
“Certain things—like coriander or dill—I like to wait until the last minute before I mix them in. The flavor is just so much brighter,” he says. Pearlstein wears thick cotton gloves, covered by another pair of latex gloves, to knead the meat. The worst part of making sausage? “Cold hands, no doubt.” The meat never should go more than 10 degrees above freezing; if it does he has to stop and wait for it to cool. He could use a mixer to blend his ingredients together but for now he embraces a more hands-on approach.
However, cold hands weren’t his only problem four months ago, when Pearlstein was still working out of his original production space: His own one-car garage retrofitted into a kitchen with barely enough room for himself, not to mention his two employees and the USDA inspector that’s on sight every day.
In August, Link Lab moved to a new, more spacious location in Maple Leaf. His new facility is a small, unassuming, brown building that screams early 80s post office, but compared to his garage this place feels like a palace. The commute isn’t as nice as it used to be; he actually has to drive to work now rather than just step out his back door. The move was worth it though; Link Lab’s business has grown so much that Pearlstein had to move in order to meet the demand.
He approaches sausage making the same way he approached his work at Microsoft. Before he became a full-time meat man, Pearlstein was a project manager at the tech giant. Efficiency was his job back then and he finds it translates well into running his own business. “There’s a lot of time sensitive stuff that has to happen in the right order, and when you’re doing it all yourself.”
Like many other small businesses around here, Link Lab grew out of a hobby. In 2007, Pearlstein walked away from Microsoft to spend time at home with his first child. The quality time was great, but he needed something beyond diaper changes to pique his interest. He remembered some college friends that made their own sausages. And after successfully curing his own prosciutto, it was time to move on to cased meat.
Pearlstein discovered his daughter enjoyed this process as much as he did. She was only about twoyears old when he walked into her room one night to find her stuffing Legos into a sock. When he asked what she was up to she turned around and yelled. “I’m getting the meat into the casing!”
He describes sausage almost as an afterthought, more of a vehicle to deliver a medley of flavors rather than an entity all its own. “I think I make great recipes,” Pearlstein says. “But I want people to think about the effort that goes into these products. From the farmers that raise the meat, to it’s processing, to the seasonality of the spices and fruits, to me and to the restaurants that are serving it. There’s a whole chain of people that work to get this in front of them.”
Each link in that chain has to be sturdy; Pearlstein works closely with his clients and local meat producers so he doesn’t promise more than what his carefully chosen suppliers can deliver. As of right now only a handful of stores and restaurants sell his sausage. But so far Seattle has been kind to Link Lab. Now that Pearlstein is up and running in his new space, you can find his seasonal varieties and favorites like chipotle and tequila pork and shiitake and sage sausages in places like Pete’s Wine Shop, Ken’s Market, and Hook and Plow at the Waterfront Marriott.