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Uli's Famous Sausage

Making Seattle a little more interesting

Seattle is a great place to live for many reasons, but a city is livable and interesting because of the people who create and provide something that sets it apart. Uli Lengenberg (photo at right) is a great example. How he grew up in Germany, lived in Taiwan and ended up in Seattle at Pike Place Market is one of those stories that takes Seattle up another notch on the interesting scale.

His parents owned a country inn in Siegen, Germany close to the woods with a lake out front. A simple inn with 16 beds, it also had a public restaurant. Uli helped his mother in the kitchen, learning from her and his grandmother, the "Master Housewife." Wealthy families needed help in their kitchens, with their children and with household duties. His grandmother taught these skills at school—basically home economics.

Young people both worked and went to school in order to gain theory and knowledge. Uli looked into becoming a chef and apprenticed for a year, but didn't like the lack of respect given the workers. His interest in wood led him to work as a framer when he was 17. "When you're that age, you don't think about taking care of yourself. Superman is a dwarf against you! My bones were still growing and I was lifting heavy weights. Because I was taller than everyone, I had to bend when carrying beams with someone else," he remembers. He damaged his back so badly, he had to quit.

Attending business school, he learned shorthand, typing, accounting, business English and computer skills. While in school, he met a butcher who suggested he become his apprentice. He talked to his dad who set up two weeks of work over the Christmas holidays with his restaurant supplier. "I didn't mind killing pigs," says Uli. "When you live on a farm, you see it, it's part of life. Plus his product was excellent and I enjoyed eating." After the holidays, Uli went back to school, but felt he was wasting time. The only reason to get his diploma was to get a job in an office and he didn't want that. "Of course, those courses have helped me in business since then," he says. He quit school and went to work full time.

Uli by sausage counter at Pike Place Market

From 1978 to 1980, he went to school to get his journeyman's license. "I loved the numbers part of it," he recalls. "If you slaughter a bull, what percentage is the hide and what animal gives this percentage of bones and how much will a filet cost. When you love something, you do it well. But my dad didn't think I was studying enough." At the time of graduation, his dad was out of town but someone sent him the newspaper showing Uli at the top of his class. "When he came home, the first thing I said was ‘Did I study enough?' He said he would never say anything about it again!"

Sausage making is regulated throughout Germany, but each butcher does things slightly differently. "If you want to learn, you jump every year to a different butcher," says Uli. When he was 25, he applied to butcher school and went to Heidelberg to study. "You learned everything—law, theory, practical business knowledge—all the components of running a business." He graduated as a Master Butcher in October 1983.

Front Matthew Pergrine, back Ariel Juarez

After a few jobs, trying his own inn and getting divorced, he needed something different. Friends from his village had found their way to Taiwan. With that connection, he moved to Taiwan in 1988 and stayed for 12 years. He speaks Chinese, "enough to order food and drink, ask directions, talk about spices and weights, but I wouldn't be able to discuss politics."

In 1991, he married Jean who he met in Taipei. She was from the Laurelhurst area in Seattle and, after 20 years of living away, she wanted to move home. Uli met an American in Taiwan who wanted to invest in a business and they all moved to Seattle.

In Seattle, he checked out markets and butchers and tasted their products. "I decided there was room for improvement," he says. He met the owner of a Ballard butcher shop and began making sausage there. In May 2000, Uli and his partner opened the shop at Pike Place Market. After nine months, his partner wanted out. Uli bought his share, worked hard, was able to hire more staff and his reputation grew. "I'm having a lot of fun," he says. "We're in Qwest and SAFECO fields, Palomino, the Space Needle, Steelhead Diner and many other places."

His latest venture, coming in June, is to move his production, all of which is now done at the Market location, to a building in south Seattle. This will allow the wholesale part of the business to grow even more. The current production area (behind windows at left) will be turned into a seating area (four tables, 12 seats) so people can stay while they eat what they buy from the counter. His current office area will be the retail side of things. A friend, Bart Traubeck, owns Alpine Brewing Company and his beer will be available. "It's great because he is a German Master Brewer and I am a German Master Butcher. I'll make German meatloaf that can be stuffed with different things and then sliced for sandwiches. But I won't do fancy stuff like goat cheese and sundried tomatoes."

Uli's sausage has already made Seattle a better and more interesting place. With his new deli and beer spot, he's giving us one more reason to enjoy life here a little bit more.

Uli's Famous Sausage
15 Pike Place Market
Seattle, WA 98101
206-839-1000
www.ulisfamoussausage.com

 

Connie Adams/May 2008


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