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John Haedrich could not fathom being a dentist. He came from a meat family and grew up around butchering and sausage-making. So when his mother suggested he opt for anything else, dentistry even, Haedrich said he scoffed.
“I said ‘I love to eat, I have to be a butcher,’” Haedrich said.
And so the German-born Haedrich became a butcher. Now 81, he’s been running Tip Top Meats, an eatery, market and butcher shop, in Carlsbad since 1979 and in Glendale before that.
There’s no doubt it’s his spot.
When I arrived at Tip Top this week to talk to Haedrich, I was told he was still busy mixing sausage. I ordered a bratwurst while I waited and discovered Tip Top napkins came emblazoned with a cartoon image of Haedrich as “Big John.” Later, on my way out, I spotted a cardboard cutout of him, adorning an apron and with a piece of meat under his arm.
In between, Haedrich and I sat down to talk about why butchering is an art, how he’s seen the food industry change and just how many pounds of meat he’s eaten in his life.
What is it about butchering you love?
It gave me the self-confidence; I knew what I could do. We all have our imagination, talents. I worked with my father and I saw how it’s done, how much monies are made, always something to eat … this was the thing. This is my life; this is my stage I built here.
Do you still make sausages?
Every day. We make about 4,000 pounds a week right now. Lunch meats, wieners. Four thousand pounds of sausages. Process the meat, filling it in the casings and turn it over. It tastes good, it looks good. It’s a part of craftsmanship. This is great, it gets into your blood.
And so you consider it an art? You talked a lot about the craft.
It’s a fine trade of art. Like a good cook, like a fine meat processor, like a fine craftsman. It’s a lost art really, they don’t make them anymore. It’s all factory, commercialized.
You have to know what you’re doing. First of all, the combination of the meat, the processing of the meat and the handling of the meat, the quality of the meat, this is all something you have to consider. An average butcher has no idea. They open up a box and it says here top sirloin in there and they have to look twice to see what top sirloin is.
You go next door, nice meat they have up there, Costco. There’s nothing wrong with them. But they don’t know how to do it. They lose 50 percent cutting it up. You open up the bag, there’s a pound of juice running right out there. And then you trim it, you lose 25 percent right there. So here it’s trimmed right.
We have increasing sales every week. It’s a growing business. When everybody slowed down, we had record sales.
So what do you attribute that to?
Consistency, quality. People know what it has to look like and taste like, a bratwurst. So when people come from Bavaria, they want to have Bavarian ricewurst, we have it. They know what it tastes like, otherwise, they wouldn’t come here. They know what they’re coming here for.
How have you seen industrial food processing change over the years?
It’s all price, you want to make a cheaper price. Pre-seasoned, phosphate added, pumped with water, pumped with solution, marinated. Then you cut into it, it falls apart. That is not natural.
What other sorts of changes have you seen in food in general in the United States since you started?
There are some fast food chains, “Oh Black Angus beef burger.” But not what you think it is, Black Angus, beautiful cow. Old cow. Old bull. They are all processed food. So the Chicken McNuggets, they’re all just leftover from chicken wings … that are glued together, bang. It’s all by-products.
You see the things we do, nobody else does that. We see on the box (where it comes from). When I see sometimes I’m disappointed by their products, I don’t order from them.
Do you find that you have any other competition? Who do you think your competition is?
I am the competition. I was a boxer, OK. You go in the ring. You know … your opponent is well-prepared to come at you, you better let him have it. That’s what I do right now.
Come on, show me what you can do. I have better prices, better variety, better location, better help, better situation, period. They can’t compete. Who can compete with me? Nobody can. They have a better price over there. But people still come here to buy my steaks.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
When I go home happy tired, it’s fulfillment of my job. A man who is happy, has a full life, always had a job, enjoyed what he did and made money at it. I don’t envy anybody at all. Not a doctor, not a professor, no one. I’m not afraid to die. When you’re 81 years old, as strong as I am and as much I can do every day, it’s a blessing. I hope it lasts for a few more years. I want to be at least 50 years in business for myself.
People have been talking about there’s an obesity problem and people eat too much. What do you think about all of that?
Well it’s up to each individual what he do.
Fat people happy, always they are. I’m in the meat industry for so many years, and there’s no day went by that I (don’t) eat a pile of sausage, or meat product period. This morning I had some ham, bagel, eggs.
That’s one thing. Then I had a sandwich, liver sausage, it was at least half a pound. Then open up the smokehouse, the wieners were ready so I eat a pair of wieners, that’s a third of a pound. That’s a pound right there. This is day after day after day. So I am 80 years old. Say for 60 years, so to speak, I eat a pound of meat every day. 360 pounds a year, times 60. That’s 21,000 pounds. This is 10 tons went through my system.
Blood pressure’s good, my cholesterol’s good. I’m eating good. I’m sleeping well, I’m not abusive. I’m working. I’m just active all the time. That’s what it is.
What do people most come in for, asking for?
“Is John here?”
“Can you get me John?”
I don’t want to blow big smoke. I don’t need the attention. I’m big enough here. We are focusing here and the people, they come from everywhere, and I think … consistent fine sales every week, and the cash register’s ringing all the time.
— Interview conducted and edited by DAGNY SALAS