The food business is tough one. The usual retail challenges are compounded by the demands of serving perishable products day in and day out to an ever more discerning customer base. Food related businesses that survive – and thrive – owe their success as much to daring and luck as they do prudent planning and careful attention to detail. Saslove’s Meat Market is one such enterprise, and this year is its 60th anniversary. Pretty darned impressive, huh?
I sat down with Joel Diener, owner of and butcher at the Wellington West Saslove’s (his brother John owns and operates the ByWard Market location) to find out a little of the business’ history and longevity.
Saslove’s was founded in the ByWard Market in 1954 by Sam Saslove and Nathan Diener, John and Joel’s father. A native of Poland, Nathan emigrated to Canada in 1948 and made a name for himself throughout his career as an honest, hardworking, generous and ethical businessman. It is these values which have kept the business humming for decades, long after Sam sold his stake.
Growing up in the business gave Joel a great perspective on success. Their father paid attention to details. He sealed deals with a handshake, knew his customers by name and made sure he had their favourite products on hand. In serving the culinary needs of various ethnic communities, he was able to build a broad and evolving client base.
“Our continued success at Saslove’s comes not only from relationship building but also through the ability to adapt,” explains Joel. “We have sourced and continue to carry hard-to-find products because our customers request them.” The hundreds of photos of happy customers with Saslove’s staff that line the store’s walls are quirky but positive proof of the warm relationship Saslove’s has with its clientele.
Among those unusual products (note that the two stores do not carry identical lines) are exotic fare such as bison, wild boar and caribou, as well as hormone-free meat. At the Wellington Street location, which opened in the late 1990s, Joel has nimbly adjusted his offerings to suit the taste of a very supportive – and hungry, it would seem – community. “We were one of the first butchers in the city to offer organic meat,” he says, adding that it continues to be in extremely high demand. “And when we first started offering prepared foods, we couldn’t believe the positive customer response, so that aspect of the business is constantly being enhanced as both customers and staff suggest new recipes for us to try. Our new veggie burgers are a great example of this.”
Among the many delicious prepared food options you’ll find at the Wellington Street West Saslove’s are tourtière, shepherd’s pie, impossibly delicious knish and so much more. Chicken, beef and supremely tasty pork and prosciutto burgers share fridge space with house-made sausages – most of which are gluten-free – that are cranked out by the hundreds. Many, many kilos of meat and fish are put into flavourful marinades each day, ready for easy broiling, baking or grilling.
While Joel admits they do a brisk business with all their various prepared foods, particularly with their gluten-free salads and baked goods, Saslove’s remains, at its heart, a butcher shop, albeit one with an old-fashioned, general store kind of feel. Carefully arranged cases are brimming with quality cuts and custom orders are a big part of their repertoire as well. I recently tried some of Saslove’s Canadian-raised, hormone free Wagyu beef rib steaks and they were absolutely delectable, far more flavourful and tender than their more pedestrian cousins. “We started bringing those in a few months ago and now we cannot keep them in stock,” admits Joel.
Joel is modest and humble when it comes to talking about his part in helping Saslove’s reach this impressive 60 year milestone, giving credit to the work ethic inspired by his father. “I recall him telling me once, as we attended a funeral, that no one will remember how much money you had; they will instead remember what kind of person you were. That message really stuck with me and I’ve tried to bring that spirit with me to work every day. I guess that’s why Saslove’s Meat Market is still thriving.”
Saslove’s Meat Market locations are at 1333 Wellington Street West and 50 ByWard Market in Ottawa.