I’m hoping to persuade the Catalan editor of The Distributist Review to begin a regular column entitled, “To Market, To Market, To Buy a Fat Pig.” (If anything, to promote butchers and makers of authentic botifarra.) I was persuaded of the desirability of this type of regular feature after reading about and listening to Joseph Pearce’s apologia for Harp and Shamrock Croft, LLC, a small farm in South Carolina. We need more stories of practical Distributism alongside the theoretical ones. In one sense, stories such as these need not the appellation “distributist” in that a more accurate term might be “normal,” in the full sense that Russell Kirk meant it (i.e., having to do with a rule or standard for living). It is eminently normal for the father of a family to support himself and his loved ones through his own talents, property, and industry. Providing for one’s own survival to the extent that he or she is able and with one’s God-given gifts is something for which everyone should strive.
The traditional “Mom and Pop Shop” is one such normal thing. It is an act of freedom, creativity, localism, and tradition. The term “Mom and Pop Shop” is actually a fairly modern one. We give this term to those businesses that are now a dying breed (or at least rare in light of the mega-stores or mega-chains). The past saw such an ubiquity of these shops that the term doesn’t have much meaning aside from a late 20th century, early 21st century context. These family businesses would be essential parts of a community that provided goods and services and were the means by which many people raised their families. I can imagine a certain satisfaction in running one’s own shop. Being one’s own boss is an expression of freedom and reinforces pride in one’s work. One can also provide for his or her dependents in a healthy and human way. Yet, it is very difficult for the “Mom and Pop Shop” to compete with the big-box stores that supply for human needs at cheaper prices and often with—unfortunately—lower quality items. It is also difficult with an ever-encroaching administrative state that makes the establishment and running of a small business subject to a regulatory scheme that would rival a Soviet state. Indeed, the same encroaching government tends to favor the bigger businesses in that the revenue to the government is more significant.
So, it’s time to thumb our noses at big government and big business altogether and support the family business. The objection might be leveled that goods from these shops may be more expensive. A response might be that the extra couple of shekels spent on an item is well worth the better quality product or service, crafted or grown or provided by one who cares for the product (as it is bound up with his name). It would also promote a culture of human-scale living and freedom rather than ceding to the modern heresy of “bigger is better.” In addition, such an option can support one’s hometown or community and the unique place that it is. So permit me to take the liberty of (perhaps) inaugurating the first of such a regular column here by profiling one such shop: Azman & Sons Market in Cleveland, Ohio.
Walking into Azman’s Market on St. Clair Avenue on Cleveland’s East Side is like walking back into 1924. The radio is on and usually with some local programming, perhaps a Cleveland Indians or Browns game or the NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers—yes, CHAMPION CLEVELAND CAVALIERS. The old building is a little corner shop reminiscent of other such buildings of the era when beauty was a consideration in the craftsmanship of architecture and design. The ceiling has the traditional molding of the era—I recall such in the old bars and pubs I’ve frequented in Cleveland and Chicago. It displays a pleasantness that is not simply industrial or efficient. Shelves line the left side of the shop with ethnic specialties—homemade noodles and jars of condiments or delicacies that one would find in a Central European market. Intermingled are schlocky knick-knack items of the past—an oversized Cleveland Indians baseball, giant plastic Coca-Cola Bottles and toys. The center of the shop is a meat case that once upon a time was stocked with lunch meats and cheeses, but now serves as a shell for only a few items. (But this belies the wondrous goodness that lay in the coolers and fridges behind!)
The spartan nature of the rest of the shop is indicative of the change in the neighborhood since the market’s heyday. A mere block away from St. Vitus Church, this neighborhood was the center of Slovenian immigration to America from the 1880s-through the 1970s. Cleveland is an interesting city in that it boasts a sizeable population from the central and eastern European countries. One cannot throw a stone in Cleveland without hitting a Slovenian, Croatian, Pole, or Hungarian. The St. Clair Avenue Corridor at one time boasted more Slovenians than Ljubljana. With the immigrants came the customs and habits of their culture. The foods, the bakeries, and the industriousness that marked that proud people. It was generally a blue collar area, with the steel mills and other industries of Cleveland providing work for many. Since the 1960s, the demographics began to change with many who grew up in the neighborhood moving to the suburbs. Others would still return to the neighborhood for Mass on Sundays or holidays at St. Vitus or to patronize shops like Azman’s. But the demographic changes were significant and the subsequent decades saw the closing of many of the shops that were once thriving. The area became depressed, but for a few hold-outs. Thanks be to God, Azman’s was one.
Behind the counter on the right are built-ins from the era that presumably held the spices and maybe the tools of the butcher’s trade. Behind the counter on the left is a room that opens up to the wonderful world of the sausage-maker. A cutting table where the pork is cut, the industrial sized mixers and meat cutting equipment, and the knives and sharpeners that have no doubt been used for decades by the proprietor, Frank Azman and his father and uncles. When one enters, more often than not, one immediately spies Frank and one of his employees cutting meat, making the sausage, or prepping them for the smoking process. At the back of the building is the century-old smoke house. For years it has served as the indispensible element that makes Azman’s klobase and zelodec the absolute wonder that it is.
The shop was founded in the 1920s by Frank Azman, Sr. along with brothers Louie, Edward, and Bill on the corner of Addison Road and St. Clair Avenue. Frank, Jr., along with his brother and sister, worked with their father from an early age and now continues as the proprietor and chief sausage maker at the store. He has worked there for over 40 years. Sausage is a staple among Cleveland’s diverse population. It is the quintessential peasant food that makes the most out of God’s great gift of the pig! It is also an art form. Not only does each ethnicity have its own way of preparing sausage–with techniques and spices native to the nations of origin—each family shop has its own specialty and recipes. As a youth growing up in that fair city, there seemed to be a sausage shop or meat market on every other block—especially in the older neighborhoods. (If anyone wants to talk about the clichéd “unity in diversity,” the only possible place I can see truth in that phrase is an ethnic sausage and craft beer festival! True ecumenism, that!)
Azman’s specialties are Slovenian smoked sausage (klobase) and zelodec. The former is a garlic and spicy smoked sausage akin to the Polish kielbasa. The latter literally is Slovenian for “stomach”—but don’t let that scare you! Essentially it is a larger klobase in a larger casing. Once cooked, it is sliced for a delicious sandwich. Growing up, I recall my parents getting these foods during Christmas and Eastertime, a tradition we have continued with our children. Azman’s sausages are made in the traditional manner with traditional tools of the trade. Frank is not given to the allure of modern efficiencies or half-measures. He prepares his sausages in the way of his fathers. The casings are firm, but not too firm; the meat is ground more finely than other Slovenian sausages I’ve had. One may prepare the sausages either by boiling or on the grill. There is a nice snap to the sausage when one bites into it after a rolling boil. They are perfect with brown mustard and onions, or with horseradish. Azman’s zelodec is probably the best in the city! It makes a great sandwich, served on rye with some provolone or as an appetizer with a glass of red wine or a beer. Azman’s also sells a number of other products: special batch Italian sausages and brats; bacon; and dried Slovenian sausage. The dried Slovenian sausage is a perfect treat to throw in a backpack for camping, hiking, hunting, fishing , or tailgaiting. (Of course, one can simply buy the sausage and dry it out at home—Frank will tell you how!)
For me, living in Ann Arbor, Cleveland is not so far away; so it is a blessing to be close to these tastes of home. Yet, if I’m lazy—which is often the case—Frank will ship his delicacies to my door. My bride will tell anyone that I am like a kid at Christmas whenever we get a delivery from Azman’s. Given that we customarily do make the orders around Christmastime, that’s a very true statement. Give Azman’s a look! Heck—have Frank ship you some sausage! In our earthly existence, we are blessed to have been given glimpses of eternity and a foretaste of beatitude. A sausage from Azman’s is one such example of beatitude! Here is the info:
6501 Saint Clair Ave. Cleveland Ohio 44103
Hours: Mon-Sat 9:30am-4:30pm
In this age of pragmatic, cold, efficiency, a visit to Azman’s puts one in contact with a man who has a heart for his craft, his neighborhood, and his fellow man. I have visited many times, but most memorable are the times when I have visited with my kids. It is as if the world stops—he’s delighted that they’ve come into the shop and he spoils them! He prepares zelodec sandwiches, warms them up, and serves them with cans of Coke. They love it! A man proud of his craft, of his family’s heritage and delighting to share it with others. And guess what? He’ll prepare that sandwich for you even if kids don’t come along.