Aug 26, 2016 05:51PM
By Tamsen Butler
Ken Stoysich can tell a lot about a person based on what type of meat they request while standing at his counter. “When someone asks for a tri-tip steak, I ask them what part of California they’re from. Or if they ask for scrapple, I know they’re from Pennsylvania.” He will further know they’re from eastern Pennsylvania if they want their scrapple made with oatmeal instead of cornmeal.
A lifetime in the butchering business has made Stoysich a bit of an anthropologist as he learned what people like based on where they were raised. A person does not casually gain this type of knowledge by chance. Stoysich started sweeping the floors at his dad’s Stoysich House of Sausage at age 8 and was finally allowed to start learning the art of butchering at age 12. He’s been at it ever since, having taken over the shop around 10 years ago. In fact, it is all he has ever wanted to do. When asked what he would be if he could not be a butcher, his reply was, “Dead.”
Make no mistake about it; there is a big difference between a butcher and a meat cutter. Stoysich is a bona fide butcher, trained by both his father and the other butchers in the shop as he grew up and attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Just because someone stands behind a meat counter and wears a white apron doesn’t mean that person is actually a butcher. He says there is a lot more to it; proper butchering is an art.
“If you want to have some fun, go up to the meat counter at a grocery store and ask for a cut-up chicken. They’ll look at you with a blank stare and then wave toward the case.”
Stoysich explained that the difference between a meat cutter and a butcher is simple: “A meat cutter says, ‘I’ve worked at a packing house and can handle a knife.’ A butcher says, ‘I can take that knife and make you money.’ If someone tells me they’re a butcher I ask them to tell me what an English roast is. If they can’t answer, they’re probably a meat cutter.”
When asked what people get from his shop that they can’t get anywhere else, Stoysich puffed up his chest, smiled, and replied, “Me!”
Omaha’s Amy Riehle says that Stoysich House of Sausage has a solid place in her childhood memories. “Growing up, I've always had a love for the place. Every time I walk into the place, the scents of delicious meats take me back to when I would visit with my mom, or when I went to grade school across from the 24th and Bancroft location and would stop in after with friends for snacks. When we go there now, we always go for the Polish sausage, but end up with a lot more. It's the closest thing to our homemade Polish sausage that we can get.”
“I know butchering has been a dying art for quite a few years,” Stoysich admitted. “A lot of people don’t know how to cook anymore.” He says that foodies will come in and buy things like sweetbreads or ox tails, but for the most part, the practice of making a roast on Sunday and having the meat feed the family until Wednesday is not as common as it once was. Mostly, Stoysich finds himself selling award-winning sausage and steaks.
No matter what his customers crave, it’s likely Stoysich can deliver. “Back in the `70s there was a large group from England at Offutt Air Force Base, and they wanted their bangers and their bacon. This was before the Internet—now you can get any recipe you want. Back then, they were kind of hard to come by. I told them: ‘Give me a recipe, we’ll make it up, and if it tastes right to you, then we’ll just keep it.’ So that’s how we learned to make English bangers and English bacon.”
People visit Stoysich when they want to eat something reminiscent of their homeland, whether it is haggis, or beef hearts, or tongues, or just a great steak. No request is too unusual, he says. “After 50 years, nothing’s really strange—different, but not strange.”
Visit stoysich.com for more information. Omaha Magazine