Meat the King

Sausage King at same location for 47 years

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    You've entered the kingdom.

    A 47-year-old culinary secret is out: Some of the best sausage ever produced in San Diego are still being handmade in Mission Hills.

    OK, so maybe you've driven by and noticed the "Sausage King: Park in Rear" sign and snickered, but if you never have, you may want to stop and expand your meat-eating horizons.

    The story really begins in 1956, when Canadian immigrants Manfred "Fred" Spenner and his new bride, Charlotte, honeymoon in San Diego. The young couple move to San Diego in 1961 for the weather and because of the "large" community of German ex-pats -- Fred said he thought it was as many as 10,000 (!) -- and after working a series of jobs in advertising and sales, the first of what eventually became five Sausage Kings opens in 1963. The kingdom grows until there are stores in Chula Vista, La Mesa, Mission Valley and Kearny Mesa. These days, sadly, the kingdom has shrunk to the storefront/factory/smokehouse in the 800 block of Washington Street.

    The king, who's now 80, insists he's not in charge.

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

    The first thing a customer notices walking in the door is 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 tells 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" -- the cash register has, as is true of most of the decor, never been updated, and its satisfying mechanical clang announces to customers that this is a cash-only business. There are few more intimidating glares then Fred's when somebody asks if he takes plastic. Then, tell him you only want half of what you ordered because you don't have enough cash. It's a memorable moment. Still, the king has entered the 21st century and recently put up a "People Love Us on Yelp" sticker on his front door.

    The glass-front cases showcase dozens of cold cuts made on-site, including smoked liversausage, jagdwurst, schinkenwurst and blood-and-tongue sausage, all available for $2.94 for a half-pound, as well as such summersausages as cervelat, thueringer and teawurst. And don't forget the sausage links: smoked Polish, Italian, linguica and mettwurst, among others, not to mention the potato sausage that is available by request. These, too, are on sale for $2.94 a half-pound or less.

    Why the half-pound price? Fred says he doesn't want to scare anybody off with the full-pound price.

    Sadly, there's no Sausage Prince in the waiting -- Fred and Charlotte never had children. However, Fred says he plans to eventually turn over the store to Manuel Ramirez and David Garcia, two longtime employees who know how to operate the walk-in cold and hot hickory smokers and the enormous machines by Koch and Butch R Boy used to manufacturer the sausages.

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

    It's not all about the meat at the Sausage King, though. There are all sorts of German baked goods, like the Rum Stollen Cake for $9.75, and packages of Christmas biscuits and breads. Names you've probably never heard of -- Lambertz, Dr. Quendt, Weiss, Bahlsen -- and great graphics cover the packaging. Fred orders it all over the phone from suppliers in Canada and Germany.

    "We are old-fashioned: old-fashioned store, old-fashioned person, old-fashioned product -- we also take checks," Fred said.

    Eric S. Page reports about all things San Diego, but he draws the line at cat stories. You can follow his updates at twitter.com/espage or send him a story idea.