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Famous Woodstock family business is more than just sausage recipes

OTTO'S!


by: ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - In his ninth year working at Otto´s, Bill Kuhn says he wears Lots of layers in frosty weather, gathers warmth from the outdoor grill, and loves his job barbecuing for midday customers on Woodstock Boulevard.The sun was shining, and it was below freezing outside Otto’s Sausage Kitchen in Woodstock on a recent winter morning – but the store’s sidewalk grill was fired up, cooking some of Otto’s nationally-famous old-fashioned wieners.

Tending the grill was Bill Kuhn, a longtime Otto’s employee, who says to stay warm on days like this he layers with long johns, two sweatshirts, and two pairs of socks. Nonetheless, he adds, he loves standing outside talking with customers and barbecuing.

“It’s a great neighborhood. It’s like hanging out at home barbecues,” smiles Kuhn, as he gathers warmth from the grill. Seven days a week there is an Otto’s employee outside around lunchtime serving piping hot wieners and sausages.

This is the spirit of Otto’s: Dedication, fun, and hard work. And it’s these three ingredients that keep this eighty-year-old family business alive and very well.

When Otto Eichentopf started the family market in 1922 at S.E. 46th and Woodstock Boulevard with a meat counter full of some of the exact same products (original recipes from Germany) that still fill the counters today, could he have dreamed that his descendants would be so dedicated in carrying on a family tradition?

Now in its 76th year at the same 42nd and Woodstock location, the business is stronger than ever, bolstered by the help of fourth generation family members.

Gretchen Eichentopf, who owns and runs the business with her husband Jerry (and other family members), describes a daily routine that is an extraordinary example of deep family roots and family cohesion.

“We meet for dinner each night. Heidi is head cook, and makes dinner for all of us.” Heidi, the eldest of three daughters, is also involved in up-front retail, e-store sales, and web administration – besides helping Gretchen make twelve huge bowls of assorted salads every morning, starting at 6:30 am.

The dinner Heidi makes is for the extended family of Jerry and Gretchen, three daughters, two sons-in-law, and two grandchildren, whose ages are six and four.

“We always had extended family dinners with the grandparents,” says Gretchen, pointing out the continuance of a family tradition.

Daily extended family breakfasts are another tradition that helps the family stay in touch before it launches into days that are usually brisk with business. “They tell us what they want the night before – waffles or pancakes – so everyone is happy. And we always have oatmeal. Breakfast is a big part of the day for everyone.” Commenting on how these meals create family cohesion, Gretchen adds, “We don’t take our business home.”

With two children in schools just blocks from business and home, Heidi can still be the “pick-up parent” before the young family is joined by husband Justin, who combines his job flying for Horizon Airlines with working in the store managing beverage orders.

Middle daughter Christie has been learning old-fashioned wiener and sausage making from her dad Jerry since she graduated from college eight years ago, and she is now the second family expert holding these culinary secrets. Christie works fulltime, and is teaching the skills to her new husband Kevin who, Jerry is happy to report, now does a lot of the casing, cooking, and smoking of the meat.

Youngest daughter Bereka has been accepted into veterinary school, and may in the future – one speculates – be tied indirectly to the family business by caring for animals that supply the store with natural meat.

When asked if there’s any other “glue” that keeps the family together, Gretchen answers, “skiing”. For decades ski lessons and skiing vacations have been a major source of family fun.

That, incidentally, led to employment of James Snowbarger, whose stepdad taught skiing to the girls. Snowbarger, a full-time student at PNCA (Pacific Northwest College of Art), works weekends behind the counter. He says he has done a lot of PNCA projects involving Otto’s logos, and recently designed the new sweatshirt that is selling like hotcakes – or, should we say, hot dogs.

The store is online at: www.ottossausage.com.