Mt. Angel’s 2009 Business of the Year is really several businesses rolled into one and stuffed in sausage casing.
Mt. Angel Sausage Co., 105 S. Garfield St., makes sausage; sells sausage, sauces and nuts online and at its pub restaurant; and is a catering service as well as a concession provider at fairs, festivals and sporting events.
Jim Hoke was looking for a new career after leaving a lucrative position as a superintendent on an offshore oil rig in the South China Sea. He wanted to spend more time with his family: wife, Robin, daughter, Nikki, and son, James.
It wasn’t easy at first. Hoke doesn’t seem to do anything half way. When he realized the extent to which television was getting in the way of family time, Dad got rid of four of their five TVs (he says he actually “bought them back”) and disconnected the cable. However traumatic at first, he had their attention. … And they had his support. When James, now 26, wanted to start his own business about a dozen years ago, they bought a mini doughnut machine and set up shop at Salem Saturday Market. They enjoyed it so much they went to Carlton Fun Days with their circular sweets, little knowing that their destiny awaited them there.
It came in the form of an elderly Dutch couple who’d been trying to sell their sausage business for two years. It included a trailer, a route – and a recipe. Hoke handed over $20,000 and the sausage rope was passed.
“Sausage is in my blood,” Hoke said. “I grew up in Montana, working at the grocery store of a Polish master sausage maker named Gene Domogala.” By the time he was 15, Hoke was a journeyman meat cutter.
Making and selling sausage was a promising venture in which every family member – along with a number of friends – could have a role. As they honed their sausage-making skills and became vendors at various fairs and festivals, Hoke felt the pull to put down roots. He began asking his clientele, “When you think of sausage, what town comes to mind?” Far and away customers named Mt. Angel, the tiny town that draws some 350,000 people to its annual Oktoberfest. Verboort came in second.
It didn’t take much digging to discover that the home of Oktoberfest lacked a sausage company. One of Hoke’s favorite axioms is “Find a need and fill it.”
Hoke was fortunate enough to shoehorn his way into hard-to-get O’fest booth space. In fact, the second year his booth was located in the parking lot of what would become, in 2001, Mt. Angel Specialty Foods.
Hoke got more to the point a couple of years ago by changing his DBA to Mt. Angel Sausage Co. In the past 18 months he has completely remodeled the building’s façade and expanded the outdoor dining deck to 30-by-30 feet – one of many customer-driven improvements.
“I don’t spend a lot of time planning,” Hoke said. “I tend to wait until something is blatantly obvious. I figure as long as I do what customers tell me they want, I’ll probably have success.”
The theory confirms itself: Hoke said in the past year they’ve grown 327 percent. Customers were also the impetus behind making their own pasta and pretzels and apple strudel logs as well as adding wine and a host of German beers to the pub menu.
The self-avowed “carny” has nevertheless halved the festivals he attends to about 30 “big ones” as local business expands.
It’s hard to find something that isn’t growing. They’ve gone from two to 13 types of sausage, including bratwurst, bockwurst, currywurst, fricadelwurst, knockwurst and Italian wurst. Menu, dining space, hours: all increased. Managing the restaurant is Lennez Hitzemann, former owner of Silverton’s Oregon Tea Garden. Online and in the store, they sell seven types of nuts, four specialty mustards and their homemade curry sauce to complement the sausage.
Robin and Jim moved from Salem to Mt. Angel, just blocks from the business; the business now has a Facebook page – and Jim gets excited talking about the sausage-making “robot” purchased from Germany last year.
“It can adjust the product within a tenth of a gram,” Hoke said.
Another Hoke axiom reflects what he believes is the main reason for his success. “Dance with the girl you brought to the dance; don’t switch partners once you arrive,” he said. “We have never varied from sausage.”