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Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Herbie Morscher behind the counter of his family-owned pork store, which has called Ridgewood home since 1955.

When Herbie Morscher’s daughter and the Archbishop Molloy High School softball team were invited to compete in a tournament in Italy, Morscher traveled to Europe with her — but couldn’t leave Ridgewood without one of his pork store’s signature products.

The steak burgers, a favorite at Morscher’s Pork Store on Catalpa Avenue, were a special request from his daughter. She begged him to bring burgers to cook at the tournament, so Morscher boarded the flight to Italy with a cooler bag as his carry-on, filled with 80 frozen patties.

The Morschers’ Italian hosts held a party at the tournament with a ton of incredible food, but as soon as Morscher got his hands on a spatula and a grill, the scent of his burgers rose into the air, and Italians flocked toward it, he said.

“Those burgers went like that!” Morscher said with a snap of his finger and a laugh.

With such enthusiasm for his products and the ability to appeal to a variety of demographics, it’s no surprise that Morscher’s Pork Store has been at the same location in the neighborhood since 1955. The Morscher family came to the United States from Europe after World War II with “nothing in their pockets, just the will to work,” Morscher said.

Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS

Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS

His father’s cousin, Joseph Morscher, first opened the business on Onderdonk and Greene Avenues before eventually buying Arnot’s Pork store and renaming it at the Catalpa Avenue location. Morscher’s father Herbert helped his cousin over the years and became an official partner in the business in 1981. By 1983 they brought in a third partner, Siegfried Strahl, who is the owner of the building and still a partner to this day.

In the meantime, Herbie Morscher was earning his degree in business management at St. Francis College. After graduating, he took a job at John F. Kennedy International Airport by day, but his father always made him come help out in the pork store when he got home. When Joseph Morscher was ready to retire in 1988, Herbie was next in line to become a partner in the family business.

“A lot of people told me not to go into it,” Morscher said. “It was teetering, we didn’t know which way the neighborhood was going, there was a lot of bad things happening around here, just seeing drugs and the usual how a neighborhood changes. But people have to eat, they’re always going to be hungry.”

Morscher said it takes passion to be successful when running a small business like his, but fear was also a factor. He would have nightmares of taking over the business and then failing after his family put in so much of their time, he said. But every morning it drove him to come into the shop and work harder.

Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS

Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS

Today, Morscher is the managing partner along with Strahl and 17-year employee Peter Kotarowski. On a block that used to have as many as five other butchers years ago, Morscher’s Pork Store is the last one standing.

The presence of Kotarowski, who was made a partner five years ago, signifies the greatest source of the pork store’s longevity. The Polish native came to Ridgewood as the neighborhood’s population shifted from being heavily German to now Polish, Romanian, Yugoslavian, Serbian, Croatian and more.

“Little by little, we make big success because we try to make everybody happy, with different customers and different nationalities,” Kotarowski said.

Morscher’s has made slight changes to its recipes to match the changing tastes in the area, but their authenticity appeals to everyone. Their meats are smoked using a state-of-the-art smoker that burns real cherry and apple wood, and its digital interface is so easy to program that they don’t need a large staff in the back of the house. In fact, Morscher’s only has two employees other than the three part-owners.

This allows them to spend a little extra money on using all-natural casings for their meats rather than collagen casings. They also spend more to buy prime choice cuts of meat, and nothing less. Having a holistic approach also allows the pork store to appeal to all generations, and Morscher said he respects the new-found appreciation that younger generations have for natural foods.

Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS

Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS

As with any small business, Morscher’s has to battle with the typical New York City struggles such as rising utility bill costs and a lack of parking. Since the business is so well established, Morscher said that people come from Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and all parts of the city to visit his store because they used to live in Ridgewood.

“It kills me when a customer comes from Long Island or Staten Island or Brooklyn and they park here and then they get a $150 ticket on top of my bill,” Morscher said. “That hurts, that’s a struggle.”

Yet, having the landlord as part-owner of the business has been another key to success. It not only allows them to save money on rent, but it’s a huge reason why Morscher’s Pork Store has remained in its founding location. Morscher said business is as good as it’s ever been and it improves each and every year.

To the man whose family started it all, even after incorporating the tastes of the world and taking his flavors across the world, Morscher said the business is right where it belongs.

“People know you when you’re walking around, it’s a good thing, and Ridgewood was always known for that,” Morscher said. “This is the best neighborhood, believe me, the best people are from this neighborhood.”

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of an open-ended series in The Queens Courier and on QNS about small businesses across Queens. The goal is to highlight mom-and-pop shops and their history, as well as their successes despite facing competition from bigger, well-known retailers; and the challenges they face in the current economic environment. If you’re a Queens small business owner and interested in speaking with our editorial staff about your successes and challenges, call 718-224-5863, ext. 204, or email rpozarycki[@]

Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS

Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS


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