Wally Tenhoopen was asked to help bag chickens one day while working as a bagger in a grocery store in Arlington Heights. He liked the atmosphere and the guys working in the butcher shop, so he hung around more. That was 40 years ago. Now, Tenhoopen is the owner of Thuringer Gourmet Meats in Arlington Heights.
The store is tucked away on Arthur Avenue among plumbing supply stores and auto body shops, but loyal customers know where to find him, especially around the holidays when prime beef roasts, hams and turkeys are ordered.
There is always time for talking, giving advice and joking with customers, even on Saturdays, when people are buying meat for their grill.
Being creative keeps him happy on the job. "We are always trying new things like skirt steak burgers and cheddar jalapeņo burgers," said Tenhoopen. "Our triple play burgers are made with short ribs, brisket and chuck roast. Boy, are those rich."
He says people like to know where meat for their hamburgers and sausages come from. Tenhoopen grinds several varieties of bratwurst, smoked Thuringer and wieners at the shop.
"When I started in this business we used to work with half or quarter cows and break them down into cuts. Now we order the pieces we need," said Tenhoopen. "The butchers today wouldn't even know how to break down a cow. They just put a piece of meat on the table and cut straight down. You have to angle it or you get tough meat," he said.
People's tastes have changed over the years. Skirt steaks used to be taken home by the butchers or thrown away. Tenhoopen says people now realize that it is a good cut of meat.
"I can tell when customers are watching cooking shows, too," Tenhoopen said. "Chefs from the East or West coasts refer to cuts of meat by different names than we use here. A rib-eye steak here may be called a beauty steak or market steak elsewhere, a skirt steak may be referred to as a Philadelphia steak or fajita meat.
Tenhoopen also says there are seasons for meat.
"(Customers) buy more steaks, brats and hamburgers in the summer. Winter is for pot roasts, beef and pork roasts," he said.
He said shoppers should take notice of how much unusable fat is left on a steak on sale at a large chain store. The price may not be that good after all when it is trimmed off.
His favorite cut of meat?
A bone-in rib-eye, with french fries and coleslaw. Or braised short ribs and oxtails, but he added that younger people may not even know what those are.