OCEAN CITY — Holidays at Boyar’s Food Market used to mean selling uncooked pot roasts, country hams and whole turkeys that would end up on the dining tables of hundreds of local homes.
Today, customers in Cape May and Atlantic counties are more likely to ask for party trays, hoagie platters and other prepared foods, said co-owner Bob Blutinger, of Mays Landing.
“As the ’80s turned into the ’90s, people stopped cooking,” he said. “It used to be grandma cooked a big pot roast with 20 ears of corn. Now it’s all hoagie trays. People don’t have the time. It’s a completely different world.”
Boyar’s Food Market, a third-generation business, is celebrating 88 years of business this summer. It was founded in 1924 by Blutinger’s grandfather, Louis Boyar.
His mother, Lillian Blutinger, of Hamilton Township, and his late father, Barney Blutinger, took over the shop, where he grew up working after school.
Blutinger, 57, left home in 1978 to travel the country as a referee for the Harlem Globetrotters. Contrary to popular opinion, refereeing a Globetrotters game was not the easiest job in America, he said.
“Nowadays it’s like a Broadway play, but back then they really competed,” he said. “The Washington Generals were all 6-foot, 8-inch guys who could play serious ball.”
He married and returned to Ocean City in 1981 to rejoin the family business.
In 1987, Ocean City Councilman Scott Ping and his wife, Gail Ping, bought into the business.
Ping said the shop has adapted to changes in the meat business. Butchers normally could count on getting entire sides or quarters of beef. But now virtually everything comes pre-cut and packaged.
“It makes it easier to supply what your customers want,” he said. “On busy days we’ll need 100 whole filets. The only way we could have done that in the past is if we brought in 100 hindquarters.”
Ping said eating habits have changed as well, with fewer home-cooked meals.
Americans are spending more of their money on outside dining compared to meals made at home, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 1950, Americans spent nearly $3 on groceries for every $1 spent at a restaurant. In 2010, they spent just $1.05 at home for every $1 spent at a restaurant.
“When moms started working, the rump roasts and pot roasts really started to disappear. We sell very few roasts compared to what we used to sell,” he said. “Our culture has changed. Everyone realizes that. You need two breadwinners now. The way people eat has changed, too.”
Boyar’s later added a fourth partner, longtime employee Bobby Salvucci, of Upper Township.
Salvucci is a jack-of-all-trades at the shop, working the meat counter, waiting on customers or cooking in the commercial kitchen. The busy summer means days that start at 6:30 a.m. and end at 6:30 p.m., he said.
Blutinger said his father used to drive around South Jersey to find suppliers of fresh fruits, meats and vegetables for the store. The store forged strong relationships with these growers who provided the best pole lima beans, Jenny Lind melons and “heads of lettuce like cannonballs.”
These relationships remain crucial for small businesses, he said.
Boyar’s, which is open year-round, is especially busy around the holidays, when demand spikes for party trays and hoagie platters. The store’s chicken tenders are a big seller, Blutinger said.
And he takes pride in introducing his version of a chicken cheesesteak to South Jersey from an idea he got 26 years ago while on vacation in Florida.
Blutinger said he still feels daily pressure to preserve the legacy built by his parents and grandparents. He cringes when he considers what would have happened to his shop’s fortunes this year had Ocean City suffered similar devastation from the June 30 storm that knocked out power to most of Atlantic County.
Instead, his store had a record-setting week in sales, he said. It might have been much different.
“We were 10 miles away from not having anything,” he said. “I don’t take anything for granted. I treat every day like it could potentially blow up in my face.”
Contact Michael Miller: