You can get just about anything you want at Gene’s Sausage Shop – except haggis
Looking for a pear liqueur complete with a pear in the bottle? Maybe a chimney sweeper that pops a coin out of its butt? A lucky marzipan pig? Yolanda Luszcz sold more than 3,000 of the porcine pastries this holiday season at Gene’s Sausage Shop at 4750 N. Lincoln Ave.
The old world style store boasts 40 varieties of sausages, smoked hams and deli meats, a dizzying array of beverages ranging from goldwasser liqueur (a German treat that actually contains slivers of real gold), four different types of herring, an plenty of Germany’s famous (or infamous) limburger cheese, and 350 different beers.
But what really makes Gene’s unique, she said, is that they still make their meats the same way her father Gene and uncle John were trained in their small farm village back in Poland where they grew up.
“It’s an art not many people do anymore because of mass production. We use no added preservatives. Therefore the shelf lives of our meats is four days, versus something that could be stored for one to two weeks,” she said.
“In fact, we’re collaborating with a local brewery. We grow hops on our roof during the summer, smoke those hops in our sausage smokers, and use that in making the beer.” Yolanda Luszcz noted, adding the deli also operates a rooftop bar and eatery during the warmer months.
In addition to the Lincoln Square store, the family has also been running another Gene’s deli at 5330 W. Belmont Ave. for more than four decades. They opened the Lincoln Square shop in 2009 when they took over the old Meyer Delicatessen with the help of Uncle Sam, former Ald. Gene Schulter, and the local Chamber of Commerce.
‘’When Meyer’s closed after 52 years, we were looking for someone to fill that space,” Schulter recalled. “I was approached by the Luszcz Family. The SBA (Small Business Administration) was holding an auction and the top bidder was the United States of America. That rarely happens, but it happened here. The SBA was being represented by the U.S. Attorney’s office, which told me they were interested in getting a qualified group or person to take over the business.”
It’s been a perfect fit, Schulter said.
“Although the Luszczes are Polish, I did suggest they keep at least a few German things on hand,” Schulter smiled.
They did even better than that.
“We’re not just a German deli, but a European deli,” Yolanda said. “We have Irish banger sausages, Spanish chorizos, and French and Portuguese food. When Ericson’s Swedish Imports closed a while back, we ended up with all their customers because we also stock Swedish. There aren’t too many things we don’t have.”
Except maybe haggis.
Not that anyone at Gene’s has anything against the widely-loved Scottish delicacy made from sheep’s innards, oatmeal, onions, suet and spices whose aficionados swear tastes far better than it sounds. There just hasn’t been much call for the stuff at Gene’s, Yolanda said.
Although the the staff varies between 15 and 22, the family involvement remains strong as ever, Yolanda said, noting that her parents Gene and Alice remain active in the business, along with her brother, Derek, an environmental engineer – and the youngest worker, Yolanda’s three-year-old daughter, Sigrid.
“She’s already learning the business. Not long ago I saw her standing at the top of the staircase greeting customers. When someone asked where the tea was, I saw her personally taking them over to the tea section.” Yolanda grinned with pride.