I have the particular recollection of walking into Schriner’s Fine Sausages in Glendale, California as a young boy and a silver haired woman with a German accent standing behind an impressive display case of meats and cheeses would come around to me, handing me a slice of bologna wrapped in white paper. Every time I went with my mom to Schriner’s this happened and this is exactly why I accompanied her on Saturday morning shopping trips. Free meat.
The grey-haired woman was Maria Schriner, originally from Stuttgart, Germany. She married Walter Schriner and, while living in New York, they started making sausages. “Walter was from New York, though he pretended he was from Germany,” Walter’s grandson and current owner of Schriner’s, Wally Schriner, tells me when I visit my childhood haunt on a warm April day. Walter and Maria came out from the East Coast in 1952 and originally settled at 4th and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. Why then did they move to what was then a desolate area in the northern reaches of Glendale? “Probably cheap property,” Wally surmises. That, and there was a small German-American community already established here. The reasons may be irrelevant. What’s important are the sausages: bratwurst, frankfurters, Polish, bangers, Italian, Swedish potato, breakfast sausages, among a slew of other types of meats stuffed into a casing. “Maria and Walter were totally hands on,” Wally says. “Sausage making is in our blood.”
Wally has been at the helm of Schriner’s for 38 years, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Six days a week he arrives at the store at 4 a.m. He’s not one to be the “face” of Schriner’s so he’s almost always in the back office, running a small meat empire. “I always told my own kids love what you do,” and he seems to really believe that. In 2018 Schriner’s is nearly identical to what it was when I was eighteen. “We make over 150 different products; our niche is that it is all made here,” Wally says. “If I was to bring in something else, like Boar’s Head, which you can get at Costco, then it wouldn't work. These are our meats. I adhere to the same recipes and way of sausage making that my grandparents started.” And for multi generational customers like myself, that is the reason we’ll drive out of our way to come to Schriner’s. “The key is consistency; we're not trying to cheapen the product,” he adds. And though the products like their beef jerky taste exactly as they have for decades, change is nonetheless the other nit-picky constant in Wally’s life, and Schriner’s finds it must compete with new ideas, a new customer base and new attitudes towards meat. “I need to keep changing - we can't just be a German deli anymore, so I look for new varieties of fresh meats.” That includes their chorizo sausage and carne asada for example, stealing ideas from shows on The Food Network, and employing social media. Bacon wrapped meatloaf is not as German as leberkäse, but Wally strikes a balance for some of today’s ‘no red meat’ leaning customers. “Yeah, we offer nitrate-free meats, chicken sausages like lemon-cilantro, even some gluten free items, so you can still come here if you’re on a diet,” he says. Diet or no diet Schriner’s makes between 6,000-10,000 pounds of sausages each and every week. Their large walk-in stainless steel smoker would make any home cook jealous. Their Black Forest Ham is another classic, but you’ll also find rib eye, steaks and various cuts of meat, German mustards, sauerkraut, German beers and wines, and classic European potato dishes like rösti and spätzle. They have expanded under Wally’s leadership to provide wholesale products and catering, not to mention sausages for the local Oktoberfest. Schriner’s employs 16 people, the majority of whom have been with Wally for over 20 years, one over 30 years. Originally the store was just the current deli portion with one room in the back to make sausages. Little by little Maria and Walter were able to purchase adjoining stores and expand capacity, now at 6,200 square feet, something Wally believes they had envisioned decades ago - a sort of familial succession, a guarantee for the next generation.
Today Schriner’s uses the bread from the bakery next door for their in-house deli where you can get fresh made sandwiches to eat there. A dozen tables inside allow you to lounge, but many people take the sandwiches to-go. I ask Wally if he is surprised the business is still active? “Kind of,” he admits to me. “It’s kind of crazy. There must be something here. Quality and consistency, that’s what I’ve kept.” And in keeping the traditions of the past, like other small businesses in the Arroyo, the present and future is sometimes tenuous. “It’s a challenge each and every day to run a small business,” he acknowledges. Increasing costs are the most obvious issue but as Wally says, “it’s hard for me to pass that on to my customers. I try and keep my price point in line and with everything made here, it lowers my costs.” He surmises that within a five-mile radius of the store only 20% of people know of Schriner’s. “There are people still out there to grab.” There are new people for whom Schriner’s, like me, will become an institution. As Wally and I end our talk I suggest I’d like to photograph him in the deli. No. He will have none of that. He leads me on a tour of the property, but says I can photograph everyone else. “The people up front and in the back – they are the players, they are what make this business what it is today - they are Schriner’s. I just have the name.” But it is that very name that is still a draw, even after 60 years.
3417 Ocean View Blvd.