Kielbasa is not only all over John Czerw’s hands and clothes, but it also runs through his blood.
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John Czerw (pronounced CHE-V) is a third-generation kielbasa and pierogi- maker and owner of Czerw’s Kielbasy, located for 80 years on Tilton Street in the heart of the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia.
“I started working at the shop when I was five-years-old, cleaning out the smokehouses, helping the customers with their packages, and eventually I grew older and my responsibilities grew,” explains Czerw. “Now, I’m one of the shop’s co-owners, and my favorite part of the job is keeping my grandfather’s tradition going.”
Czerw’s Kielbasy was established in 1938 when John’s grandfather, Jan Czerw, immigrated from Mislsi, Poland, where he was a butcher and worked in a local slaughtering shop. Jan converted a horse stable into the Port Richmond kielbasa shop and built the brickoven smokehouses that still run today.
Czrew is adamant that those smokehouses maintain the authentic quality and taste of his grandfather’s kielbasa. “People have suggested getting stainless steel smokehouses where you just ‘set ‘em and forget‘em,’ but that’s not what we are about, that’s not what my grandfather did,” says Czerw. “That’s what sets us apart from these commercial shops, we smoke on real wood. It’s a whole different flavor than the liquid smoke commercialized versions.” Czrew gets up at 4:30 a.m. to start work on the smokehouses and says that while it’s tough work to maintain them, he’s committed to a quality product and knows the smokehouses are critical to that.
Besides maintaining the highest quality product, Czerw also learned another important aspect of business that was crucial to his grandfather–catering to the client. “I take a cue from what my grandfather used to do on customer service, which is something you just don’t see much of anymore,” explains Czerw. “I treat my customer s like they’re family, and even if it’s your first time coming in here, I try to treat you like you’ve been coming in here for forty years.”
It is not just following tradition for John Czerw. He tells Fox Business that while Czerw’s Kielbasy uses his mom’s recipe for the pierogi dough, he has tinkered with the fillings. A smiling Czerw tells Fox Business, he added Philly Cheesesteak and bacon cheddar to the more traditional rotation of fillings for the delectable Polish dumplings. “What says Philly more than cheesesteak?” Czerw asks.“
Czrew tells Fox Business that he wants his kielbasa shop to stay put in its original location. He explains that people often ask him why he does not want to add locations and bring his product into supermarkets, but he says it comes down to quality.
“To move my store somewhere else or to move my product into a supermarket would cheapen the product, and I would never do that,” says Czerw. “I don’t need to do anything fancy.I get so much pride from simply continuing my grandfather’s tradition and interacting with customers.”
For John Czrew’s tips on how to prepare the perfect kielbasa and more, watch his full interview above.
Emily DeCiccio is a video producer and reporter for Fox News Digital Originals, follower her @EmilyDeCiccio