19 May 2009

Karl Ehmer Lives

Two months ago, I posted the image of a postcard advertising the old Yorkville restaurant, the Bavarian Inn. I marveled at the time at the line of German storefronts then lining 86th Street: Dei Lorelei, another very popular German restaurant of the time, was right next door, and Karl Ehmer, a German butcher, was on the other side.

I, of course, assume Ehmer's business was long dead and buried. But today I was shopping in the Red Hook Fairway and what do I see, next to the Schaller & Weber meat products, but a package of cooked bratwurst made by...Karl Ehmer. "Since 1932," read the logo.

There was a website address, so I looked it up and, whaddaya know, Karl Ehmer didn't go out of business. The Ehmer family (two grandsons now run it) is still churning out sausage in Ridgewood. Oh, certainly, that 86th Street store is gone, as are many others. Ehmer has have a manufacturing plant in Ridgewood since back in the 1940s. He would team up with store managers to co-own Karl Ehmer stores throughout the city and beyond. Karl would put up the money, and the managers would run the shops, carrying fine Ehmer products. It was a chain, and they were franchises, basically. By 1970, there were 30 Ehmer stores; by the late '70s, there were 50, some as far flung as Florida and Pennsylvania. His stuff always cost more, but it was better quality; the pigs came from his own farm in the Hudson Valley.

Due to changing demographics, the number of stores eventually shrunk. There are still a few left, apparently (one's in Ridgewood)—just none in Manhattan. Mainly, Ehmer producers are carried by other stores, like Fairway.

Hey, another reason to visit Ridgewood.


Jonathan Tourguide said...

Karl Ehmer is very good stuff. Go right to the store and see how many others agree. They'll likely be waiting in line ahead of you. In fact that was always part of our family's holiday (Easter, Christmas) table conversation -- the line at Karl Ehmer (always the full name) and how to avoid it. Good stuff.

Jill said...

I posted these photos last Fall of that area. It's an incredible part of the world, feels like a time warp.


Lisanne said...

My grandmother (Oma) was from Germany and we grew up on Ehmers cold cuts. One by one they began to disapeer but she would travel and take a subway and a bus from Flushing to go to Ridgewood to go to Karl Ehmers till she was in her 90's. She would also get the GOOD bread (something I find all europeans say about the bread from their country) while in that neighborhood, probably at a polish bakery or something. She also used to go to Schaller & Weber..or as she used to say it Schalla & Vebba.

Signed D.C. said...

They used to advertise on local TV quite a bit, and I think Herr Ehmer himself did the voice-overs...not quite as iconic as Tom Carvel perhaps, but pretty cool. The only tag line I can specifically remember is "you can have it on a bun"--said in a German accent, and in reference to their bratwurst IIRC. And I doubt they're still doing this, but many years ago I attended a wondrous Oktoberfest at the Karl Ehmer farm upstate!

Anonymous said...

I used to work at one on 86 street bay Ridge Brooklyn. We would cut off a small piece of the smoked ham when they came in hot in the morning. Chew it instead of gum. It was great. Definitely a superior product! Steve B. We used to say the wurst was the best!

Bill Schweikert said...

In the summer of 1961, I paid a visit to Ehmer's plant on business. I was impressed by its cleanliness One worker did nothing but hose down the floors and walls all day. There was no smell of meat or blood. At lunchtime, the company provided all workers with cold cuts, bread, mustard, and a bottle of German beer. As a guest, I was included in the conviviality.