Herbie the Hereford is staying as a Main Street icon in Edwardsville, while the butcher shop beneath him is changing hands.
Edwardsville Frozen Foods was established in 1947 by the Rizolli and Tenor families, who later sold it to Carl Brueggeman. In 1980, Brueggeman sold the shop to long-time employees Ed Hall and Fred Schulte, who had started there first as part-time “cleanup boys” and then full-time apprentices.
Now Hall and Schulte are passing the business on to two of Edwardsville’s native sons: Bob Keyser and Jeff Merkel.
In all those decades, much has stayed the same. The original locker keys and giant old-fashioned wooden desk remain in the small office. They still use a rotary phone to communicate from the front counter to the back rooms.
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And the lockers themselves are still there, going back to a time when most homes did not have freezers. So how do you store a whole cow or pig without most of it rotting before you can eat it?
You rented a locker, just like Jeff Merkel’s family. He remembers going to Edwardsville Frozen Foods every week with his mother and helping her retrieve a week’s worth of meat from their rented freezer locker.
Those lockers are still available, even with the advent of freezer compartments or chest freezers in basements. A quarter cow renders about 200 pounds of meat, which would take quite a large freezer at home. Instead, some 80 or 90 families still rent a locker for $70 a year to store large quantities of meat.
Those lockers stand behind the meat counter, offering seasoned pork loin and kabobs, tenderloin and andouille sausage and ham shanks, behind rows of local barbecue sauce and beef sticks and summer sausage. They even added a high-protein raw dog food that was one of Edwardsville’s best-kept secrets.
One of the few changes in the second ownership was adding bratwurst to the traditional offerings of aged beef, pork, chicken, and wild game processing. The bratwurst is a proprietary blend of spices and seasonings that has won awards for the butcher shop.
Now changes are coming again. Keyser and Merkel are long-time residents who grew up going to the Wildey Theater, next door to the iconic butcher shop. But the management of the store will remain under long-time employee Bruce Krome, who began with an apprenticeship at the shop in 1972.
This time there will be more than bratwurst added to the offerings. Rebranded as the Goshen Butcher Shop, Keyser and Merkel are adding a “farm to table” concept to complement the butcher trade with a hub where people can pick up local produce, dairy, fruit, cheese and wild-caught seafood.
“Ultra-fresh, ultra-local and ultra-clean are the main pillars of the new concept, which we plan to grow into a full-scale farm-to-table market,” Merkel said. “That, combined with our commitment to continue the core business and maintain the service and quality they are known for, is what we want to bring to the community.”
They plan to add fresh carry-out meals and private catering under St. Louis chef Ben McArthur, who formerly worked with J. McArthur’s and Balaban’s restaurants, as well as Blue Apron-style meals to go for busy cooks who still want high-end meat and fresh ingredients. Keyser and Merkel have coordinated with the farmers and vendors of the Land of Goshen farmer’s market to offer the freshest of produce: if you buy asparagus there, Merkel said, odds are it was picked that morning.
“We’re hoping to bring in new customers who care about ultra-fresh, ultra-local ingredients and sustainable meats,” Merkel said.
However, the core of the business remains the same: the butcher shop with deer processing, summer sausage, beef and bratwurst, chicken and pork in all its variations. Huge shanks of meat are hauled out of the back and Krome still cuts it with a bandsaw that dates back to the late 1970s, then carefully trims each piece by hand. Ten minutes later, the chuck roast is in the cold case, ready for purchase.
And the smoker, which goes back to the construction of the shop in the 1940s, still smokes the meat as it always has.
The interior will be renovated, but the shop will remain operational during the construction. Keyser and Merkel intend to restore the historic look of the building, with storefront windows similar to the original windows that were bricked in sometime in the 1980s. It is their hope that people will look in the new windows and see the produce in its baskets, with sausage hanging from the ceiling.
The two men had been friends with Krome since high school, and over the last few years, had heard that Hall and Schulte were planning to retire, Keyser said they “rolled up their sleeves.”
“This place is an icon and a tradition,” he said, “People come here because they get the quality meats they want.”
Many buyers were interested in the property, Keyser said, but only to tear down the building and put up something new, like another office building. “Fred and Ed, they didn’t just take the first offer,” he said. “They grew up here, and they wanted to see it continue on.”
Despite the announcement of the sale, many have come in bemoaning that the shop is closing. “We’re not closed!” Merkel said. During the renovations some services may not be available, but for the most part everything is going forward. The produce will be offered beginning Tuesday, and the kitchen should be renovated and opened within 90 days. The new website, GoshenButcherShop.com, launches next week, and they’ve ventured onto Facebook as well.
In the meantime, Schulte and Hall are staying on for a little while to help train the newcomers, and Keyser and Merkel are setting up the new ventures and planning the renovations.
Keyser and Merkel are reassuring everyone that not only will the meat case stay stocked, but Herbie the Hereford will remain. The large cow figure on top of the store has been an icon almost as famous as the Wildey Theater next door, and has his own history of misadventures. From time to time someone has put a hat or a wreath on his head, and on a couple of occasions someone has climbed up to ride on Herbie — and in one case, had to be rescued by the Edwardsville Fire Department, Keyser said.
And of course, he’s been stolen — twice that Krome knows: once by college students who moved him to the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville grounds, and once by unknown pranksters who put him at the former high school above their tiger statue.
But pranks aside, the new owners insist: Herbie will remain in his spot overseeing Main Street.