“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin
One of the most pivotal and remarkable relationships in the Queen City Sausage Company’ history is the relationship between the venerable, local Kahn’s Meat Packing Company and Elmer Hensler’ Queen City Sausage Company. This is a true David and Goliath story but in this case, Goliath turned out to be a friend. In fact a great friend.
Back in the early years of Queen City Sausage, which was incidentally just down the road from Kahn’s, Elmer Hensler was introduced to Kahn’s powerful and revered president, Milt Schloss. Kahn’s had achieved the status of being the largest meat processor in the region and was the local favorite and was a very large company.
So rather than be ignored by Kahn’s, Milt Schloss took a personal interest in Elmer and his small company’ success. Through the early years Elmer was able to purchase used equipment and meat, consult for advice on spices, and generally receive any help he needed. Perhaps Milt saw a bit of himself in this very determined young Elmer Hensler? All Elmer knew is that he had found a mentor in the most powerful man in the meat business in Cincinnati!
“I don’t want to be the biggest, just the best!” Elmer J. Hensler
As Elmer tells it: “Most people look at a successful businesses and think the business was just lucky, or always was a success. They do not realize how much experience, hard work, and guts it took to get started and press on!” “We started the company in 1965 but by then I had already invested 25 years in the meat business. I did everything; worked the kill floor, driver/sales, and manager for some really good meat plants in Cincinnati. One day I said to Al Stadler, this job is killing us. We work from 4 AM to midnight, let’s start our own company!”
As Elmer Hensler readily admits, starting Queen City Sausage Company was a huge undertaking. “You just could not do it today.” “We started the company with just $13,000.00 from personal savings and two partners, Alois Stadler and George Nagel. Stadler was an extremely competent spice man and master sausage maker. Nagel was a master sausage maker. Both men spoke broken English and hailed from European roots. Both were vital to putting a new company together.”
Elmer had the vision for the new company and handled the business side of things. The partners applied their sausage making skills and created the core products.
After a few years Queen City Sausage had a reputation for extremely high quality sausage. It was in the early days that a buyer made a suggestion to Elmer about making skinless sausage links. Prior to that sausages were made the old fashioned way using natural casing. Skinless was only used for wieners and was very cost effective and efficient. Elmer was the first to introduce skinless brats and metts to the marketplace. The rest is history! C
It wasn’t long before Kroger took notice and the company began to expand, eventually adding on 11 times and is now working on the 12th addition. Elmer proudly states that since the company founding 50 years ago, the company has always made a profit!
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed up in overalls and looks like work. Thomas Edison
Few people ever truly have a real knowing of what they want to do in life. This was not the case for young Elmer Hensler. Having made his decision to leave the formal education process, a new opportunity presented itself. Elmer was now free to commit full time to his passion which was working in the meat business.
What the formal education process lacked for Elmer; real hands-on learning and a financial reward attached. The meat industry had generous supplies of this if you were willing to work hard and have a vision to pull you forward. These qualities were in great supply with Elmer.
Elmer’s new teachers were the owners and coworkers he found at Mane Sausage, Eckerline Meats, Burger Meats, and Bobby Runtz. All had something to share and Elmer continued to grow and advance in responsibilities. Perhaps one of the most powerful experiences and impressions came from Elmer’s association with Bobby Runtz. While at Runtz, Elmer learned the driver/salesman responsibilities and eventually became the manager. This was the final job Elmer had before he made his decision to start the Queen City Sausage Company. While creating your own company takes courage and resolve, leaving a very well paying company added to the challenge. Elmer never flinched.
Knife, Steel, Belief, and Ambition. The American Dream Begins.
You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. Steve Jobs
When asked about starting out at the slaughterhouse at the tender age of 12, Elmer responded “I just showed up. I started doing all of the odd jobs; sweeping, washing dishes, and anything I could to be helpful and get noticed.” “I was not paid at first. I knew that due to my age and size I had to prove my worth. I was surrounded by some really tough, hard working men. This was not easy work and it certainly was not child’s play. It wasn’t long before they started to look after me. I was accepted. Money followed.” The early lessons learned at Findlay Market were now paying dividends
Elmer often speaks about his last day school. He was 15 years old and making a bowling pin lamp on a lathe at the Camp Washington Trade School. The classroom had floor to ceiling windows that were open that day. A group of girls who were friends of Elmer’s were walking by and called for him. Right about the time Elmer went to the window to talk to the girls, a swift swoosh of the teacher’s paddle landed squarely on his behind. A very startled Elmer jumped out the window and never returned to school.
A now liberated Elmer turned to the meat packing industry and solidly committed to being a part of it. Elmer always told the educators when challenged about grades and attendance; “All I need is a sharp knife and steel and I will always have work!”
“You’ll Never Amount to Anything!”
People are best convinced by things they discover for themselves. Benjamin Franklin
The essence of the Queen City Sausage Company is found in Elmer Hensler’s early school days. Being a Catholic in the 1930s meant that you were educated in your local parish’ school, which almost always was adjacent to the local church. Here you would find the classrooms with nuns filling the job of educator, church representative, and the authority figure students encountered daily. This was generally a no nonsense situation. You towed the line!
Elmer was not a particularly good student of the formal education process. It was simply too confining and uninteresting for him. Once he had the basics mastered; reading, writing and arithmetic, he grew restless. At age 12, Elmer was starting to look beyond school for his education. In fact, he had his eye on the local slaughterhouses that were just blocks away from his home in Cincinnati’s West End, known as the meat packing district, aka Porkopolis!
This was the beginning of a new education process. A new opportunity to learn new skills, be around real life situations and be paid to learn too. Young Elmer simply could not pass this up.
4:00 AM is early. Especially if you are one of nine kids and are determined to wake yourself up, go to the slaughterhouse, work and arrive by 8:00 a.m. to school. Every day! The nuns were keenly aware of Elmer’s before school work and did not like it. Not only did young Elmer bring in a bit of smell from the kill floor, he also carried in fresh stains from the slaughtering process. The nuns were beside themselves. Elmer was even more determined. You need to understand. Understand that In those days, very few students defied the nuns. It was scary and there were consequences both at school and at home.
The nuns, deeply concerned for Elmer’s future did all they could to “save” Elmer. They went as far as telling him “You’ll never amount to anything!” Elmer was undeterred. He found his future and knew right then and there what he wanted.