Before the term “locavore” was ever uttered by a strident foodie, Thurn’s Specialty Meats was a fixture in Columbus.
After more than 125 years in business, Thurn’s continues to serve the South Side with its special brand of sausages, bacon and deli meats.
Albert Thurn, 57, the fourth-generation owner of the company, said the key to its longevity is simple: passion, dedication, friendliness and an honest product.
“It’s personal satisfaction,” he said. “And the customers, I believe, appreciate what we’re doing here. And that’s what keeps you going.”
Cold cases are packed with virtually every kind of deli favorite, from pastrami to andouille sausage to German-style bologna, all prepared in-house. Old world vittles — beef tongue, head cheese, braunschweiger, goetta and blood sausage — also are among the offerings.
“We’re the only ones left in the city making most of this stuff,” he said.
Thurn’s is an old-school relic, unburdened by modern amenities, such as credit-card machines. (Thurn said he didn’t want to pass the credit-card fees on to his customers.)
The shop is open for retail sales Thursdays through Saturdays and cash and checks only are accepted. Thurn did install an ATM so people could grab some quick cash.
Meats are prepared in the same manner they have been for decades, and they contain no MSG.
“We use real spices,” Thurn said. “We don’t need those flavor additives.”
Sales have consistently increased, to the tune of 15 percent each year over the past three years.
Thurn said he believes people are more conscious of what they consume and where it comes from.
“People want to know where their food is produced,” he said. “We’re seeing more young people in here.”
Of course, Thurn’s has longtime customers, such as Marilyn Maish, 69, who has been going to the business since she was a little girl. Now, her 12 grandchildren are developing a taste for the specialty meats.
“It’s a weekly trip to get everybody’s favorite,” she said. “They have absolutely the best quality and you can always count on it.”
Thurn’s great-grandfather, Alois, started the company in 1886 and began selling sausages door-to-door.
The location, on South Front Street just north of Deshler Avenue, wasn’t by happenstance. The German immigrant lived among a high concentration of his fellow countrymen who yearned for the flavors of back home. Success came quickly and he built another facility, which was later claimed by the expansion of I-71.
The store, now totaling 5,000 square feet, has been at its current spot, 530 Greenlawn Ave., since 1958. Albert Thurn bought it in 1988 from his father, Robert, and two uncles.
At 87, Robert Thurn is still a regular fixture at the store. Albert Thurn’s siblings, Teresa and Anton, also work there.
“It’s very honorable” to carry on the tradition, Anton Thurn said. “It’s always a fun challenge working with family.”
The five-person staff cranks out 1,500 pounds of meat, plus homemade sauerkraut, every week. The biggest seller is bacon, with single-smoked, twice-smoked and peppered varieties.
Yet, the company generates only 40 pounds of waste per week.
“Now there’s even less because we’ve been smoking all the bones and selling them,” Albert Thurn said.
Thurn shrugs off his work schedule — 4:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., six days a week — as a genetic trait.
“It’s the German work ethic,” he said.