LOWER TOWNSHIP — Gaiss’ Meat Market & Grill has survived competition from supermarkets and delis by offering its customers foods they can find nowhere else, owners John and Kathy Louderback said.
The couple’s market on Bayshore Road specializes in store-made kielbasa, sausages, smoked turkeys, hams, bologna, hot dogs and all the fixings. The store and its 10 employees make about 60 different products right in the store.
John Louderback, 52, of Lower Township, said he doubts many of his customers realize how much work goes into their take-home meals and lunchmeats.
“It’s about as Old World as you can get,” he said. “These are time-honored traditions. There is no easy way to do this.”
The store’s sausages, hot dogs and hams have won a wall full of national awards from the Pennsylvania Association of Meat Processors.
Kathy Louderback learned the meat trade by working in the Pleasantville meat market of her father, Jim Bolf. Her uncle, Steve Bolf, also had a market in the city.
“I love cooking and finding new recipes. That’s the fun part,” she said.
Not every experiment is a winner. The curry-flavored beef jerky sounded like a good idea at the time. And the cheesy beef sticks tasted better than they looked on the store shelves.
“We eat our mistakes,” John Louderback said. “We don’t go hungry, but sometimes we’re not happy.”
But when they added hot-pepper cheese to their summer sausage, it soon became a top seller. And they think they have perfected their hot dogs and kielbasa.
The store has customers from as far away as Philadelphia who stop in, especially for sausage. Kathy Louderback calls them “kielbasa pilgrims.”
The store on Bayshore Road sells about 200 pounds of kielbasa per week, not counting the smoked variety. It has its own stainless-steel smoker fueled by hickory chips. The store does all its meat-cutting and processing in its large commercial kitchen.
Competing with larger stores and chains is never easy, the couple said.
Small markets have less buying power than large chains. That can make them a low priority for distributors, especially in geographically isolated places such as Cape May County, John Louderback said.
“Your business is less and less important to them, and it can get squeezed out,” he said. “If you’re not a chain, you don’t have much muscle.”
But they have cultivated good relationships with suppliers throughout the years, they said.
“Supermarkets have already done all they can do to us,” she said. “Stores like my dad’s store used to be on every corner. They all went out of business.”
Gaiss’ also sells sandwiches, hamburgers and sides and grocery items, including harder-to-find specialties such as quasi-grain quinoa.
The store is open year round and survives the leaner winter months by helping their busy working customers with ready-for-the-oven meals, such as roasts and stuffed chickens.
In general, Americans are eating about twice as many meals away from home as they did a generation ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But during the recession, some families started to cut back on how often they went to restaurants to save money.
Kathy Louderback said her prepared foods have become especially popular since the 2007 recession.
“This is not nearly as expensive as eating out. But you still have a good meal,” she said.
Running a meat market means putting in long hours. The couple looks forward to taking an annual vacation, sometimes to Arizona.
“As soon as we come home, we start talking about going back again,” she said.
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