On San Fernando near the border of Glendale and Burbank, it looks as if someone flew in a sausage haus from Bavaria and dropped it smack between a bank and a blank beige wall.
It wasn’t moved there, though walking into the Continental Gourmet Sausage Company one might feel transported. The deli case is packed with wursts, bologna, pork sausage, blood sausage — nearly every authentic flavor a German foodie could wish for. It’s all made in the spotless kitchen in the back — a matter of personal and professional pride for its owner, self-proclaimed perfectionist Eugen Goetz.
Twenty-five years ago, Goetz bought the place after seeing an ad for its sale in a German newspaper. Working as a waiter and maitre’d in Las Vegas had its thrills, but all the training in his native Germany as a teen was going to waste. Sin City had burned him out. Goetz was a sausage maker, and a sausage maker he would be.
That same year, a boy named Bill Roche was born in suburban Chicago. He would attend the University of Illinois and earn a history degree.
That his path should cross at all with Goetz’s is something of a mystery to both of them. Yet in 2011, 72-year-old Goetz sold the Continental Gourmet Sausage Company to the 25-year-old Roche and the two have struck a powerful companionship.
The deli’s wall is covered in awards. There are more in the back. Most come from the California Assn. of Meat Processors, and in the 1990s Goetz won their top prize five times. A rare Gold A from the California Department of Health takes up space right behind the cash register.
This is the legacy Roche is learning to shoulder.
“It was a complete shock when I realized what I’m doing, but I really enjoy it,” Roche said. “When I think about it, how many people go to college and come out wanting to be a sausage maker?”
Roche worked his way up to manager for a restaurant in his native Illinois when he was still a student. The restaurant’s owner had another location here, and Roche asked to be transferred. He then learned of the sausages on the restaurant’s menu, and met their creator soon after.
Goetz lives in the apartment building behind the shop. It makes it easier when he gets phone calls at all hours of the day asking him to make a crucial decision (the deli’s phone rings to his home as well). It’s also allowed him to take just four days off in the last 25 years.
It is a true master/apprentice partnership, and neither the young entrepreneur nor the strong, suspender-clad sausage maker is really sure when Goetz is actually going to retire. But already, the fusion of both their skills is transforming the business.
Roche already has plans for online ordering and reaching new clients beyond the west coast. But first, he needs to create a website. And before he came on board, the “new” recipes were few and far between. Now, a spicy andouille and creamy cheese sausage called Kasekrainer have been added to the deli case. One day, the business may even accept credit cards.
Goetz, meanwhile, is focusing on the basics: cleanliness, recipes, customer service.
“Bill has to learn the physical stuff; it’s not something you learn the day after tomorrow,” Goetz said. “I’m a perfectionist and that’s the way it is.”
In the few places the deli’s walls aren’t covered in awards, a few pictures show Goetz’s influence. There’s a picture of him grinning on his BMW motorcycle in 1970, which he still owns. Several landscape photos were taken by a friend who used his whole house as a film developing studio — the fumes of which cost him his health.
Goetz knows that feeling firsthand. Within two days of arriving in Southern California he got a job converting film over to Super 8. The chemical would put him to sleep.
Today, his office is filled with a magical scent symphony, a combination of paprika, marjoram, nutmeg, parsley and dozens more flavors. They will be added to the meat that is hand-picked and ground on-site for a truly decadent delivery of pikantwurst, liverwurst and tiroler.
Roche works every day, just like his mentor. He said before he owned his own business, “I had more time to waste, so I wasted more time.”
Now Roche has to supply customers who drive from Washington State to stock up on sausage for the next six months. He wants to provide a haven for people like Goetz’s older customers who, as Goetz puts it, remember a time when you got a little piece of sausage and a whole lot of bread. He also wants to grow the business and continue to earn those awards that remind him and Goetz of how far the company has come.
In the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” there’s a reference to Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago. The reference is not lost on Roche’s friends, who now call him the Sausage King of Los Angeles.
But before he can rightly claim his title, there are about 1,000 pounds of pork butt in his freezer that need to be cut.