- Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was submitted by Mary Clark Ormond, president of the Aurora Historical Society. All images are courtesy of the Aurora Historical Society.
When the owner of Aurora’s oldest retail business, Ed Schleining, was nominated as a 2018 Cultural Champion by the ethnic festival Roots Aurora, you could hear the cheer go up on all sides of town.
That’s because his business, The Wurst Kitchen, has a lot of enthusiastic customers who not only love his sausage, but who appreciate the experience of stepping through his doors and into an earlier era of American food history.
Schleining’s shop has been in the same location, 638 Second Ave. (corner of Union Street), since 1895, although the business began in the 1870s. Known first as Arnold Meat Market, around 1900 it became Hauser Meat Market and then, in the mid-1960s, Wurst Kitchen.
For the first 100 years or so, the business was a typical mom and pop meat market.
That was a time when city shopping was either running out in the street to a peddler’s cart or making a series of visits to highly specialized provisioners like bakeries, dairies and greengrocers.
Meat markets dotted the city, never so far apart that a shopper on foot could not find one nearby. Cattle, hogs and other livestock were slaughtered nearby or sometimes, as with the Hauser family, right there in the back yard on Union Street.
Shopping was practically an art form, and the term “food desert” could not have been coined in that era.
As the times changed, so did the institution of the neighborhood meat market. Mechanization, especially in the area of meat processing, and the advent of freezing, pointed the way to the modern grocery store. Now stores could stock their shelves and cases with a large variety of foods obtained through their distribution networks.
And following World War II, as the automobile became ubiquitous in the American city, shoppers found they liked the idea of one-stop shopping.
Eventually, even meat delivery to your front door became possible, by calling in to a store or placing an order on the Internet.
Now, in the 2010s, the pendulum is swinging back toward highly intentional food shopping. Farmer’s markets, craft breweries and boutique food shops are “in.”
And Ed Schleining, who carries on a tradition of homemade sausages that began in Aurora a century and a half ago, is seeing his business prosper as never before.
Pigs no longer squeal in his back yard, but hunters come in with their deer and geese to be made into sausage, and nostalgic Baby Boomers come in clutching grandma’s secret recipe and wanting to know if he can replicate it. (He can.)
The old is new again.
SOURCE: Aurora Historical Society
About the Aurora Historical Society
In continuous operation since 1906, the Aurora Historical Society is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the Chicago area. Come tour the 1857 Tanner House, visit changing exhibits at the David L. Pierce Art and History Center or make an appointment to do research at the History Center. aurorahistory.net
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