The name of the business appears to tell Christmas tree buyers what they’re going to get from Pork ‘N Pine. The tree delivery service and pork sandwich that comes with it are already over and above what most customers usually get with their December decoration shopping experience. Mere mention of the service has left many grown adults with their eyes all aglow during the otherwise hectic holiday season.
But to fully understand the joy that Jason Toraldo spreads, it’s necessary to go beyond the business model. One must also consider the jammy pack.
“It’s a fanny pack with speakers on it,” Toraldo tells Baltimore Fishbowl. It allows him to play merry music from his phone to the outside world. When you’re dressed up as Santa, biking and pulling Christmas trees around Federal Hill, it’s important to have music.
Not that he needs it to call attention to himself.
As he’s making deliveries, Toraldo often finds cars sidling up next to him, driving at the same speed as he is biking. When he looks over, he finds that he’s being recorded on a smartphone.
“People just like seeing someone dressed up as Santa,” he said. “It’s kind of funny.”
Now in its fourth year, Pork ‘N Pine is in the midst of something of a transition from novelty to viable business. Toraldo isn’t quitting his day job as Outreach Coordinator at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, but his holiday weekends are packed.
Tree deliveries are all booked up through December, and Toraldo is delivering about 45 a weekend. So far, he has seen his limit of delivering trees within 20 miles of downtown Baltimore pushed, as he has delivered trees as far away as Arnold (by SUV, not bicycle). In what is perhaps a sign that it’s on the cusp of becoming a bona fide trend, he’ll deliver one to a CrossFit gym later this month.
“It’s just been an overwhelming response this year,” he said, calling the overflowing calendar “a good problem.”
The idea for the company grew out of Toraldo’s desire to open a Christmas tree lot. Initially, he wanted to open the lot and have a friend’s father sell pulled pork sandwiches on the lot to people while they perused.
“I always wanted to have my own business, but I wanted to do it in a safe way. I didn’t want to quit my day job and invest it all. Having a Christmas tree lot, it’s a seasonal gig,” he said.
Toraldo couldn’t find the space for a lot in Federal Hill, so he decided to deliver the trees, instead. Despite the pivot, pulled pork remained a crucial part of the business model, so he added it to the delivery.
“Every tree comes with a pulled pork sandwich,” Toraldo said.
Staying with the pork required commitment. At first, his friend’s father made the sandwiches from his kitchen. But after the unique service got some press, the City Health Department came calling, saying ‘You can’t just prepare pulled pork in the kitchen and sell it to people.’ Now, he sources the sandwiches from HarborQue, another Federal Hill business.
The rest of the operation remains a close-knit group of family and friends. Toraldo’s father travels with him to the farms in Westminster. The trees are harvested Thursday, and picked up each Friday in advance of the weekend deliveries.
“Everyone’s getting a really fresh tree that’s just been cut down,” Toraldo said.
Some of the trees are stored in a neighbor’s yard, who will always accept crab cakes as gratitude. And when it’s time for deliveries, friends often volunteer to help out.
Laura Ford, Toraldo’s girlfriend, handles much of the advertising. Word has mostly spread through social media and word-of-mouth. Having a guy biking around dressed as Santa and blaring Christmas carols obviously doesn’t hurt visibility, either. With the rapid growth, Toraldo hints that things may expand for 2015. He begins taking orders in mid-October.
“I see the want and the desire for it there, so next year we’re going to have to switch some things around,” Toraldo said.