Where's There's Smoke, There's Salmon
Baltimore magazine|November 2019
For Neopol’s Dorian Brown and his mom, Barbara Lahnstein, where’s there’s smoke, there’s salmon.

The Lion Brothers Building on Hollins Street in West Baltimore surely has the best-smelling loading dock in America.

The seductive scent of burning oak smoking dozens of pounds of salmon that emanates from behind the back door of Neopol Savory Smokery’s ground-floor production kitchen is vaguely reminiscent of a campfire cookout—that is, if Scottish and Norwegian fish were on the menu instead of burgers and dogs. It’s the same intoxicating aroma that lured customers, like a siren song for the nose, to a stall in Belvedere Square Market for 15 years, where mother and son Barbara Lahnstein and Dorian Brown smoked fish, garlic, shrimp, turkey, mussels, sausage, and just about anything else they could think of before moving their food preparation operations here in June 2018.

Inside, two 35-by-80-inch J&R Manufacturing red metal smokers do their thing. The fish in them now is destined for Neopol’s three retail outlets and weekend farmers markets, where it will be devoured by rabid fans addicted to this particular brand of smoking.

Meeting that demand is one reason Brown and Lahnstein opened the production kitchen. They plan to sell their sandwiches, spreads, and salads to the public from this spot starting next year, but for now the more than 1,000 pounds of fresh-neverfrozen salmon—and everything else that they smoke here six days a week—supplies stores in Washington’s Union Market, Georgetown, and the original Belvedere Square location.

“I’m really grateful for everyone that supports us in D.C., but the love in Baltimore is different,” Brown says. “Belvedere is where the heart is. Our customers there are . . .”

“Amazing,” Lahnstein chimes in. Neopol is an unlikely made-in-Mary land success story starring a diminutive, blunt-talking German immigrant and her only child, a strapping, thoughtful, and charming man with a knack for making customers and employees feel as if they, too, are part of the family.

“People love Dorian,” Lahnstein says as Brown cringes, a facial gesture his mother won’t let slide.

“Stop. It’s true,” she says in a German accent that hasn’t thinned much since she moved to the United States from Stuttgart in 1982.

During a 90-minute conversation at a table where customers will soon enjoy delicacies like the salmon spread Lahnstein now insists on setting out, they interrupt and correct each other often. It’s not hard to imagine a scene at a farmers market two decades earlier when Lahnstein embarrassed her teenage son by insisting that he show customers his unfortunate new tattoo of an Aries symbol that he now admits looked more like a diagram of the female reproductive system. (It has since been covered up by a tattoo of a raven.)

But from the moment Lahnstein’s husband left her and Brown just days after Dorian was born 36 years ago, they’ve been a team of two. Although they couldn’t be more different, they are bonded by a love for one another that’s as impossible to ignore as the smell wafting from those smokers.

It’s the Saturday before Labor Day, and as Lahnstein’s done for decades, she’s selling an assortment of smoked treats at the Waverly Farmers Market, which she still calls the “backbone” of the business.

At times it seems as if Lahnstein, who has lived in Charles Village for more than 20 years, is greeting a receiving line of old friends. Jennifer Goold moved to Baltimore in 1993 and started frequenting Lahnstein’s tent here not long after. She buys salmon and tops it with olives and other veggies in salads for her children’s lunches. (PB and J, it ain’t.)

“You haven’t changed at all,” Lahnstein tells her.

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