The Finke Goetta Story
The Finke goetta story begins somewhere in Germany where Georg Finke was in love with the beautiful (and 13 years younger) Louise Reinersman. Louise was not interested in Georg, and she decided to move to the United States with her sister, Mary Anne. They went to Covington, Ky. to live with a relative in 1870 or so. Georg could not live without her and gathered his few belongings and followed Louise to Covington.
I assume he got work as a butcher right away and convinced the 15 year old Louise to marry him. By 1871, their first of 9 children was born. In 1876, he and Louise built their own shop at 824 Main Street “when Pike and Main was a cornfield.” (“Talk About Goetta, You ‘Getta’ Finke” Kentucky Post, February 25, 1957). At this time, they began making goetta in a 60 gallon iron kettle. Georg died in 1888 and left Louise to run the business and raise the children.
In 1900 and again in 1920, Louise is listed in the Covington City Directory (Boh, John H and Boehmker, Howard W.; Westside Covington, 1980, Cincinnati Historical Society, p. 13 and Appendix) as the owner of a grocery at 824 Main Street. The children and grandchildren were raised working in the store and in the “smokehouse” built behind the store. The smokehouse would have served as a storehouse, processing plant and a smokehouse. To this day, one may observe the names of two Finke men inscribed in the stone under two of the windows of the smokehouse.
Several Finke relatives had meat businesses:
Louise’s son, George II, drove a meat wagon route that included the Irish section of Covington near St. Patrick’s Church. The first three customers who asked about the goetta were not interested. However, when George began marketing it as “Irish Mush,” it became a small sensation. My mother recalls that George also had a store on 12th St. between Garrard and Greenup.
Ray Klug had a store at 17th & Garrard. He was married to Irene Finke. Her brother, Pat Finke ran the meat counter for Mr. Klug.
An alternate family history (Oral interview with Lillian Finke Briedenberg, (Louise’s daughter), audio cassette from the Author’s collection) relates that Louise began making goetta at the beginning of the Depression. Goetta was a way to stretch a household’s food budget while still providing tasty meat for the table. At that time, goetta was made with scraps and trimmings which came from the higher priced cuts of beef and pork.
Unfortunately, Louise was walking home from services at St. Aloysius Church in 1930 when she was struck by a car. She did not survive her injuries.
The family continued the business and in 1936, her grandson Elmer (aka “Mike,” son of George II) is listed (Westside Covington) as owning a Meat Store at 824 Main Street. In 1957, Mike is reported to be the largest producer of goetta in Covington (“Talk About Goetta, You ‘Getta’ Finke”). In 1962, Mike died and his sons, Bill & Jim, moved the business to Lookout Heights at Sleepy Hollow and Amsterdam Rds. Over time, this establishment has been known as Finke Brother’s (Bill and Jim Finke) Market, Bill Finke’s Market, Bill Finke and Sons (Don, Tim and Billy), or informally, just as “Finke’s.”
While Mike continued the business at 824 Main Street, some of his other brothers continued related businesses as their father, George II, had. Henry sold meat from his truck door to door in Ft. Mitchell & Erlanger. The Ft. Mitchell route was later taken over by his son, Robert, known as “Spike.” The Erlanger route was taken over by his son, Jerry.
Another son, my grandpa, Gene, seemingly wanted out of the business and worked as a brakeman on the L&N in the Secondary (Covington) yards until he was in his thirties. However, the Depression resulted in a layoff for him. He and his wife, Gertrude, had two young sons to feed. Always a practical man, Gene approached the H. H. Meyer Meat Packing Company (later Partridge Meats and currently John Morrell) and worked out a deal. He proposed that they lend him enough money to buy a refrigerated truck. He would use that truck to deliver their meat products to the homes of folks in Park Hills and Ft. Wright, like his brother was doing in Ft. Mitchell and Erlanger. Gene was living on Riedlin Avenue at the time, in the shadow of the Bavarian Brewing Company. He arranged to rent refrigerated space from them to store his meat. The arrangement worked so well that the truck was paid for within a year. Soon after the 1937 flood reached the front door of his Riedlin home, Gene moved the family to a home on Altavia Avenue in Park Hills in 1937. Two of his brothers, Henry and Mike, had previously moved to Altavia.
In this place, Gene expanded the business – curing country hams (“Hams What Am!,” People and Places Magazine, DeSoto-Plymouth Dealers, August (year unknown)) and making fresh sausages for the many restaurants that lined Dixie Highway from Covington to Florence before the days of the Interstate. Of course, he made these for his own delivery route as well. Some of his brothers and their families also sold his hams and perhaps, sausage. At some point, Gene became the goetta producer for his family’s businesses.
There were plans that Gene’s second son, Eugene George, Jr. (“Hink”) would continue the business. World War II and Hink’s untimely death at the Battle of the Bulge ended those plans. Instead, Gene’s oldest son Ray returned from the War and took over the delivery route as he and his wife, Ann, began their family, first living on the second floor of the Altavia home, then in their own home on Aberdeen and finally, in a new house they had built at the foot of Altavia where the streetcar tracks had once run. Despite these moves, Ray continued to run his meat truck from the Altavia Homestead.
Meanwhile, Gene’s youngest son, my Dad, Richard (Dick), just 4 years old when Gene moved to Altavia, had no plans to enter the meat business. After serving in the Air Force as a radar technician, he worked for a time at GE in Avondale. When circumstances forced him to work the second shift and take time from his wife, Alma, and their newborn son, Paul, he changed his circumstances and began selling Volkswagens at TriCounty VW in Covington. Dad had developed a passion for VW’s during his time in Europe with the Air Force. He enjoyed this position until circumstances forced him to sell a used car that was not “up to snuff.” His conscience would not allow him to do so another time, so again he changed his circumstances.
Around this same time, Gene was ready to retire from the ham and sausage business, and was ready to downsize from the family home. He did not move far though. After selling the business and homestead to Dick and Alma in 1965 (I was 11 months old), Grandpa moved with Grandma to the house next door. Grandma continued to be part of the business. She sewed the muslin sacks Dad (and Grandpa before him) used for the sausage rolls.
In fact, it remained very much a family business. Mom (Alma) was trained as a bookkeeper even before she and Dad were married. Paul and I were called on to weigh the sausage rolls even before we started first grade. Dad was using a hand crank stuffer at the time. When Paul and I entered high school, we started getting paid to pack boxes with sliced sausage (see below). Our sisters took over when Paul and I went to college. Soon after, we were finally allowed to “cut up” the meat. We thus learned what really made Dad’s sausage so special. Dad (or Paul or I) inspected every piece of meat that went into his sausage. We looked for and removed small pieces of bone, nodes, skin – anything unappetizing that the meat packers had not cut out. This extra effort was not required by any federal regulations, and took up to 2 extra hours per hundred pound batch, but it was the only way Dad would have things if he were to put his name on the label.
When he took over the business, Dad made efforts to modernize the production of the hams and sausage. At first, this just meant purchasing some new equipment. Then, in 1967, he had a new, two room, refrigerated plant built behind the Altavia home. This plant replaced the stable where he kept his horse as a young boy and which Grandpa had later converted to a workroom. From the new building, Dad processed about 1,000 Kentucky (“country”) hams per year and processed several hundred pounds of sausage per week for his restaurant customers in the Northern Kentucky area.
Grandpa continued to help with both businesses. He helped Ray load his truck each morning. He worked with Dad slicing hams to customers specifications and packaging them for delivery. I fondly remember watching and pestering Dad for samples. Grandpa continued to make goetta for Ray, Bill & Jim, Spike and for a few select restaurant customers. It served as a nice hobby for him during his “retirement.”
Several thing happened between 1972 and 1973 that made the business more difficult for Dad. His Mom, Gert, died, and Grandpa moved from Altavia to Erlanger. Kentucky changed from state to federal meat inspection. Federal regulations are designed for large producers, not for one man operations. Nonetheless, Dad was forced to comply. Ray gave up the meat truck and became a federal meat inspector. The oil embargo of 1973 caused the cost of fuel and raw materials to increase. Unfortunately, fewer people were eating out, so the lack of demand did not allow Dad to increase his prices. There were more people travelling by interstate, so the the number of restaurants along Dixie Highway diminished. They were replaced with chains along I-75/71 which were unfamiliar with local products and local suppliers. They also liked the convenience of pre-sliced sausage patties instead of the 5 or 6lb. rolls Dad used. Just before all these things happened, Dad decided that the sausage business would be more lucrative if he devoted his full energies to it. He sold his last ham in 1973.
Dad needed to adapt to maintain his regular customers, so he started slicing the sausage. To keep up with rising expenses and make up for the loss of income from hams, Dad also needed to increase the number of customers. One evening we stopped for a pizza (a rare treat for us). It took forever for Dad to come out , but when he did, he had a pizza and a new customer – LaRosa’s in Erlanger. Soon came other LaRosa’s franchises – a total of seven at the peak. The owner of LaRosa’s Brand, Buddy LaRosa, was not happy that some of his franchises were using a different sausage than the one he approved, but Dad’s sausage really worked very well with LaRosa’s other ingredients. Dad tried to negotiate a way for him to provide for all of the LaRosa’s franchises, but the negotiations failed. As the franchises that used Dad’s sausage closed or were sold, Mr. LaRosa did not allow the new ones to use Dad’s sausage and Dad lost these customers.
In the 1990’s, the sausage business was continuing to be difficult, regulations continued to become more cumbersome and Dad was ready to slow down a little. He had dreamed, like Grandpa, of making goetta as a semi-retirement business. Unfortunately, he had not reached a point where he could retire. He had to make goetta as a fulltime proposition. He liked Grandpa’s goetta, but he was always looking for a way to improve things. He embarked on a seven year process that resulted in the goetta we make today.
Almost every evening, he would fry a sample from that day’s batch and ask us what we thought. If we were smart, we would have learned how to taste from the master. Instead we usually replied, “Tastes the same as last night, Dad. It’s really good.” He would try to get us to notice the slight nuances that a little more this or a little less that would do to the overall flavor and texture. He really had a gift for distinguishing flavors. I recall very clearly the night he came in and proclaimed, “Well, it’s not perfect, but it’s as good as I can make it.”
I can’t give away all his secrets, but I can suggest you look for the results. With Dad’s goetta, you not only taste the onions, you can see them as well. Likewise, you can see strands of pork. A look at the ingredients will show no skins, snouts, organ meats or the like.
Like my father and grandfather, I did not always plan to be a meat processor. Nevertheless, I take pride in continuing to provide my friends and neighbors with the best tasting, highest quality meat products available. I am also proud that I have been able to pass these recipes and methods down to my own sons.
I hope you enjoy Gourmet Brand Goetta and Country Style Pork Sausage – Dick Finke’s signature recipes – and any other products the Goetta Guys make.