Are you hungry? If you happen to be a carnivore, you will be by the time you read about the history of one of Ridgewood’s most popular butchers, Karl Ehmer.
Karl Ehmer was born in a small village near Stuttgart, Germany, in 1909, and came to America in the fall of 1930 when he was 21 years old. He got a job in a butcher shop in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, and worked hard to save enough money to open his own store.
In 1932, even though the country was in the depths of the Great Depression, he decided to strike out on his own and he opened a Jersey Pork butcher shop in Manhattan.
The photograph shows Karl Ehmer standing in front of his shop in 1932. He had a special sale on smoked ham at 17 cents per pound, and offered to cook it free of charge.
But business conditions were difficult, and he struggled to keep his store open. Finally, he went back to work at his old job.
However, he still had ambitions of operating his own business and, a short time later, he tried again with his own store, again in Manhattan. This time, he prospered, and eventually, in 1941, he opened a store in the Ridgewood/Glendale area at 61-14 Myrtle Ave., offering a large selection of quality bolognas.
The store proved highly successful. Nine years later, on Nov. 2, 1950, he opened a much larger retail store and a manufacturing plant at 62-10 Myrtle Ave. Trucks lined up at the curb of the new plant and retail store, advertising quality pork products.
As his business continued to grow, he moved to larger quarters in November 1958, at 63-35 Fresh Pond Road on the corner of Menahan Street. All of his products were made, at one time, in this plant.
The list of Karl Ehmer products is substantial, including frankfurters, knockwurst, bratwurst, Black Forest ham, Westphalian ham, kassler rippchen (brined pork chops), braunschweiger liverwurst, pinklewurst (Bavarian sausage), lachsschinken (smoked pork loin), head cheese, leberkaese (similar to bologna), schwaebischer farmers salami and Tyrolerwurst (an Austrian sausage).
Over the years, Karl Ehmer relocated upstate and opened his own farm on Noxon Road in La Grangeville, New York, where he raised many of the animals for his products. He also held an annual Oktoberfest there for his friends and family.
By the 1970s, Karl Ehmer had more than 50 franchises across New York City, Long Island Pennsylvania and even Florida, along with five cattle and livestock farms and a slaughterhouse. The company boasted a slogan, “The Best Butcher on the Block.”
During the 1970s and 1980s, it was not uncommon to find Karl Ehmer products and stores advertised on TV. The company’s namesake starred in one of the commercials, shot from the kitchen of his upstate farmhouse. In the spot, he boasts in his German accent about his bratwurst being so delicious, “it even makes the vegetables taste good.”
Along with fine cold cuts and other cuts of meat, a Karl Ehmer shopper could walk into one of the stores and find an array of imported German products including chocolate, cake mixes, pickled goods, spaetzle and preserves.
Karl Ehmer died in 1989, and his grandsons continued to operate the company that bore his name. However, the following three decades would see a variety of changes including economic downturns, shifting demographics in the Ridgewood/Glendale area where Ehmer gained a loyal following and dietary trends in which many people turned away from regular consumption of processed meats.
One by one, Karl Ehmer stores across the New York City area closed. The flagship store and manufacturing plant on Fresh Pond Road held out as other pork stores across the area closed down.
Finally, on Sept. 30, 2010, the Ridgewood store and plant closed. In a Ridgewood Times article published that same day (Thursday), Alan Hanssler, Karl Ehmer company co-owner, said that “rising labor costs and other expenses, combined with a struggling economy, brought the company to the brink of bankruptcy.”
“The 25 workers employed at the Ridgewood store and plant will lose their positions today; all were provided with a month’s notice of the shutdown in order to find new jobs,” according to the article. The store and manufacturing plant would ultimately be transformed into a self-storage facility.
The Karl Ehmer company continued producing its products outside the New York City area and distributing them to butcher stores and supermarkets around the area. The closure of the Ridgewood Karl Ehmer left just one butcher shop under the company banner in Queens: a location on Horace Harding Expressway in Fresh Meadows. However, that location would not last the decade; it closed in 2017, according to Yelp.
Today, you can still find Karl Ehmer products at grocery stores across Queens; the company also continues to operate stores in Long Island; Allentown, Pennsylvania; Danbury, Connecticut and Hillsdale, New Jersey. If all else fails, you can even order them online from the company’s website, karlehmer.com.
Sources: The Aug. 8, 1985 and Sept. 30, 2010 Ridgewood Times, Yelp and YouTube.
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