Whether it’s rain or shine, you can depend on Pork ‘N Pine to deliver your Christmas trees and pulled pork.
It’s 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday in South Baltimore, three weeks before Christmas, and Todd Coleman apologizes for being late to the morning meetup that kicks off each Saturday during the holiday season. Coleman takes a swig from a cup of beer while looking over his route for the day. “It was a long night,” he said with a smile. It’s pouring outside, and the weather doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon.
“It’s raining pretty hard, so a lot of the trees today we will deliver via the van. I’ll be delivering this one by bike because it’s right down the street,” Coleman said. “It takes a lot for us to not deliver it by bike.”
Pork ‘N Pine is the business of Coleman and Mike Santoro, two Baltimore natives who dress up as Santa Claus and deliver slow-cooked pulled pork sandwiches from HarborQue to neighbors within city limits. Pork ’N Pine was founded in 2011, created by former Federal Hill resident Jason Toraldo. He originally wanted to start a low-investment, seasonal business that featured holiday treats in a whimsical way. Since there was no space for a lot from which to sell Christmas trees in the city, Toraldo got creative and decided to deliver them on bikes — with pulled pork sandwiches, of course. It wasn’t long before Toraldo’s friend group joined in and Pork ‘N Pine was born. Once Toraldo moved out of the city, Coleman and Santoro took over the business in 2019.
The delivery Santas use their bikes to carry up to eight trees each while towing a cooler full of the sandwiches. They typically load about six to eight trees per bike per trip and deliver up to 30 per day between the two of them. It’s not uncommon for them to bike up to 45 miles on a Saturday.
Coleman, an Environmental Protection Agency employee during the week, is dressed in his Santa costume complete with the white, curly beard. He hoists the backpack cooler full of pulled pork sandwiches, loads his tree onto his bike and peels off onto Fort Avenue, a busy street located in South Baltimore. His Santa beard is soaked, but he’s smiling from ear to ear as he greets the first family of the day, who are already waiting at the door for him.
“We take a photo in front of the tree every year after they deliver it, we love it!” said Mandy Miller, a longtime customer and resident of Locust Point.
The following weekend has much nicer weather. Santoro, dressed as Santa Claus, puffs on a cigarette as he prepares to trim down the tree trunks to make for easy home setup. Baltimore-based band Turnstile blares from the speaker as Santoro takes a chainsaw to the trees. The trees are fresh, locally grown Douglas and Fraser fir trees that are sourced from a Strathmeyer farm in Pennsylvania. He then looks over his route, studying special requests via their online submission form.
“People can make special requests from us,” he said, “Like this one right here, it says ‘Mike has to be shirtless.’”
Coleman and Santoro met at Bike Party, a popular gathering event for Baltimore cyclists. Years ago, Santoro reached out to Toraldo to ask if help was needed for tree deliveries, and his transformation to delivery Santa was complete.
“I ride bicycles anyways, so might as well make some money and ride my bike. It’s fun. Delivering and watching the kids grow up, going to the same family year in and year out and them just being so excited to see you every year and it being a big thing is a lot of fun. I do it for the fun factor,” Santoro said.
Santoro, a welder by trade, opens the gate and peels off down the street on his bike, balancing the trees evenly on the sides via a metal holder as his costume Santa beard blows in the wind. Moments into his delivery, he gets a flat tire — but amazingly, a group of cyclists right behind him offers aid. “It’s the code of the road, we always help another cyclist,” one of the cyclists said. Minutes later, Santoro is back on the road.
After taking a brief hiatus in 2021 because of a tree shortage, Pork ’N Pine was back up and running this season with 165 trees total. Since there is still a shortage, that was the maximum they were able to obtain from the farm this year. Wholesale prices have risen, so individual tree costs have also risen this year. A Douglas fir is $110 and a Fraser fir is $125, including delivery.
“We try to keep it affordable. Mike and I both come from working-class families and it’s who we love delivering to,” Coleman said. “It’s really fun delivering to townies, like us.”
Before their forced hiatus in 2021, Pork ‘N Pine had 260 trees in 2020. It proved to be a huge undertaking. The large number of deliveries cut into the time they got to spend on each delivery, lessening some of the magic. “We didn’t really have time to hang out and be weird with people [in 2020]. We wanted this to be a more chill year, to see people. They appreciate it. This year’s limit was a blessing in disguise,” Coleman said.
The last Saturday of deliveries is crisp and cool, with sunny skies and no rain. Coleman and Santoro hug each other to celebrate the end of Pork ‘N Pine’s 10th season delivering trees. Coleman completes his checklist for the city residents on Santa’s nice list and pedals off onto Fort Avenue, toward Silo Point. He enters the lobby, tree over his shoulder, and takes the elevator to the 14th floor. He sets the tree in front of a large window wall, carefully untying it and delivering care instructions as he goes.
“This is maybe our third year with them. Seeing the Santas come in [with the tree] and the ease of it is great and then you get lunch. I would definitely recommend them. It makes it easy, it gets you in the spirit. It’s just a nice Baltimore thing to do to see them riding down on their bike, it’s awesome,” said frequent client Meggie Connelly, who resides in Locust Point.
Coleman hops back on his bike — full of trees, and pulled pork sandwiches — and pedals off into the morning, delivering Christmas spirit to Baltimore City as he goes.