The phone at Binkert's German sausage factory rang nonstop yesterday. It was the first day for the wholesale delivery of sausages, hot dogs and cold cuts since early August, when an electrical fire and subsequent water damage put this Golden Ring business out of commission. Production stopped, threatening to take the taste out of local Oktoberfest celebrations.
Its retail shop opens today - so that this component of a venerable Baltimore niche market will be well-fed and satisfied.
So why all the fuss about a little Baltimore County business that employs only the owners and eight other workers? One phone call gave a clue:
"We don't have any places in Florida that sell our liverwurst," explained Sonya Binkert Weber, who co-owns the business with her husband, Lothar. "We do ship in dry ice."
Such is the fame of the little shop with the right stuff.
Sonya and Lothar worked alongside a crew through August and September to reconstruct their meatpacking plant - the size of a restaurant kitchen - at 8805 Philadelphia Road. Throughout the ordeal, customers sent encouraging mail to the Webers, all the while adding the question: "When will you reopen?"
Their compact shop is now clean and fresh and delightfully redolent of smoked meats, a kind of delicious autumn scent. It has also been retiled in white ceramic, with a border of German colors - red, yellow and black. Jars of imported sauerkraut, red cabbage, honey, and currant and lingonberry preserves face the deli case.
Yesterday morning, callers from a German-American Club in Dover, Del., inquired about supplies of bratwurst. Then the commissary at the German Armed Forces Command in Reston, Va., chimed in with an order. The German, Swiss and Austrian embassies in Washington have also been resupplied, as have the Washington hotels whose European-born chefs like their sausage made a certain way.
It's fitting that Baltimore is home to a traditional German sausage maker. In 1900, one out of four Baltimoreans spoke German as their mother tongue. German cooking was commonplace, as were German-speaking church congregations. There were weekly sailings between Bremen and Locust Point.
Sonya Weber is the daughter of Egon Binkert, who founded his meat products business in 1964. He had earlier worked making sausages for Paul Schafer, whose delicatessen and gift shop on Eutaw Street stood near the old Ford's Theatre and was not far from the Hippodrome. That downtown shop, where I shopped for decades (as a nice touch, the clerks counted your change in German) was filled with the same smoked meat aroma as the one on the Philadelphia Road.
"I remember coming downtown in those days," Sonya Weber said of the days when her father's meats were sold in downtown Baltimore. "We'd have lunch at Hutzler's, upstairs, and then go shopping at Lexington Market."
She met her husband, who now is the head sausage maker, when they were students at Freiburg University in Germany. Lothar was born in a small village near Baden-Baden, Germany. He had once planned to become a science teacher. He retains his interest in biology - no hormones in his sausages, he says proudly. The couple purchased the business from the elder Herr Binkert, who is now on vacation in Germany, and resolved to keep an Old World tradition alive in Baltimore.
Earlier this week, a shipment of meat arrived from Hatfield, a Lancaster, Pa., slaughterhouse that buys from traditional farmers, many of them Amish. Before long, Lothar's chopping machine was at work. Soon sausages and hot dogs were hanging from stainless-steel racks. Then the building shook again as more meat went into the chopper for another batch of wurst.
"This is our busiest time of the year," Sonya said. "We missed some of it, but there is still lots of October left. We are in business."