R.I.P., Sausage King

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A longtime San Diego food icon died recently, at 82.

    At one time, Sausage King Manfred "Fred" Spenner presided over five Sausage King businesses around the county, including shops in Chula Vista, La Mesa, Mission Valley, Kearny Mesa and the company headquarters, on Washington Street in Mission Hills.

    Spenner had been ill for quite some time. Although he kept working this past spring and winter, he frequently complained of a cold he couldn't shake. He died on June 13 of natural causes.

    In 1956, Spenner, a German native, and his new bride, Charlotte, honeymooned in San Diego. The young couple moved to San Diego in 1961 for the weather and because of what Spenner told NBCSanDiego was a "large" community of German ex-pats. After working a series of jobs in advertising and sales, Spenner opened his first shop 1963.

    In an interview in late 2009, the king, then 80, insisted that he wasn't in charge.

     "Me, I'm not important -- these are my kings," Spenner said , gesturing to the sausages, " I'm their serviceman."

    The first thing a customer noticed walking in the door was the breathtaking aroma created after nearly five decades of making and selling sausages at the same location.

    "I'm going to charge you a dollar a breath," Fred frequently told newbies.

    The next sense to kick in is visual: The store is frozen in time -- there are longhorns on the wall -- "We wanted to display we are a butcher shop , so we bought these to display that we sell meat," Spenner said in 2009 -- the cash register was, as was true of most of the decor, never  updated, and its satisfying mechanical clang announced to customers that it was a cash-only business. There were few more intimidating glares then Spenner's when somebody asked if he took plastic. Still, the king did finally enter the 21st century at point and had put up a "People Love Us on Yelp" sticker on the front door.

    The future of the business is unclear. Spenner said in 2009 that he planned to eventually turn over the store to Manuel Ramirez and David Garcia, two longtime employees who knew how to operate the walk-in cold and hot hickory smokers and the enormous machines by Koch and Butch R Boy used to manufacture the sausages.

    While the business stopped operating this past Saturday, talks are under way between Ramirez, Garcia and Spenner's wife to determine whether the business will continue, said Peter Bauer, who is Schlaraffia, which is a German cultural society in San Diego.

    "The name is too important to lose -- people told me 100 times: 'Tell me you're not going to close!' " Spenner said.

    An obituary of Spenner's said "his beloved wife, Charlotte ... has been hit with financial hardship. A Celebration of Life Service will be held on July 1 among friends." The services will not be open to the public.

    Anybody who wants to help pay for the funeral arrangements can send donations to the Manfred Spenner Burial Fund account at Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., San Diego, CA, Account No. 1359101415, Routing No. 122000247.