When Erich Schiehlen came to the United States from the Stuttgart area of Germany in 1963 at age 23, he didn't plan to stay.
"I wanted to see the world," he recalled.
But in 1972, while working in Dayton, he heard about a German meat market in Toledo whose owner was thinking about retiring.
Thirty-five years later, Mr. Schiehlen, who eventually bought that Toledo store, continues to operate Kilgus Meats, opened in 1947 by German-born Bill Kilgus.
The current store, off Laskey Road at Secor Road, sells about $750,000 a year in homemade sausages, cold cuts, other meats, and German import foods.
"Business has been very, very stable over the years," said Mr. Schiehlen, now 67. "We have a very loyal clientele."
More than half of the sausages and cold cuts, including veal loaf, Dutch loaf, and pepper loaf, are homemade there, said Mr. Schiehlen, who wears a butcher's apron and speaks with a thick German accent.
Ilona Taylor first shopped at Kilgus' former store on Lagrange Street in North Toledo.
"It's always good," she said of the firm's meat products. "That's why I'm still here.
She is a native of Germany who came to the United States in the early 1970s. "The bratwurst tastes like it should, like the bratwurst in Germany. I know the difference between a good bratwurst and a not-so-good bratwurst."
Mr. Schiehlen sold the Lagrange Street store in 1989 because many of his customers had moved away. He relocated to Florida in November, 1989, and started a meat business there with a group of partners.
He wasn't crazy about the partners. "And I just couldn't stand the summers in Florida," Mr. Schiehlen recalled. He was back within a year.
To earn a living, he bought Mr. Kilgus' other meat market on Laskey Road. It had been in the same location since 1966.
Today, customers come from all over northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.
Looking back over the years, Mr. Schiehlen said customer tastes have changed. Increasingly, they are demanding leaner meat products with less salt.
However, Polish kielbasa remains a favorite, with 6,000 pounds flying out the door at Christmastime.
Before coming to the United States, Mr. Schiehlen, a third-generation butcher, worked throughout Germany and in Zurich. Before initially settling in Milwaukee, he turned down job offers in Sweden and South Africa.
He had never been to Toledo when a sales representative with whom he dealt in Dayton told him that Kilgus was for sale.
"I packed my bags and ended up here," he said.
He is married with two grown children.
Interacting with longtime customers is his favorite part of the job.
"If we don't see them for a few weeks, and they don't tell us they're not coming in, we think something has happened to them," he said.
"We like to talk and joke with customers," said butcher Bill Vallongo, who eventually plans to buy the business. "This isn't Kroger's."
Contact Gary T. Pakulski at:
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