Penn Dutch’s 45
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Penn Dutch’s 45

Dec 14, 2023

The lineage of Penn Dutch Meat and Seafood, an iconic Broward County supermarket brand that's apparently nearing its end, really did begin in Pennsylvania Dutch country.

That's where early generations of the founding Salsburg family honed their meat-producing skills.

Jacob Salsburg began the tradition, opening a retail meat store in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., in the 1940s.

Jacob's son Edwin and his sons Bill, Paul and Rick sold the business in 1973, moved to South Florida and bought a manufacturing plant west of Interstate 95 in an industrial section of Hollywood between Stirling and Sheridan streets.

With 20 employees, they opened Penn Dutch Meats in 1975. Everything was done on-site — butchering, smoking, sausage making, packaging and selling to retail customers. Each family member worked up to 90 hours a week, according to news accounts of the time.

The Salsburgs brought Pennsylvania Dutch and Jewish recipes — kosher hotdogs and Kielbasa, Lebanon bologna, liver pudding, cured bacon, scrapple and more.

"It is what we know best, what we grew up learning," a 1976 Fort Lauderdale News story quoted then-company president Bill Salsburg as saying. "It is hard to get a background like this today unless you are raised in it."

Because they bought directly from farms and slaughterhouses, they could undercut competitors’ retail prices by 20 to 50 percent. Quality was important: A 1986 Palm Beach Daily News story said the Salsburgs bought only corn-fed cattle from the corn belt states.

Each year, one of the brothers traveled to the Ak-sar-ben National Livestock Show in Nebraska to purchase prize-winning beef.

Pork was shipped from hog farms in the Carolinas. Lamb was bought from the Southwest and chickens were trucked in from northern Florida. During the holidays, turkeys were bought fresh dressed and shipped down by the truckload and sold to consumers at prices below what most chain stores could offer.

By 1986, the store was employing 110 people and processing half a million pounds of meat a week.

When consumers began eating less red meat in the 1980s, Penn Dutch adapted by offering leaner cuts, introducing more turkey products and expanding its seafood and poultry lines.

In 1988, the family sold the business to Frank DeFazio and his family, but the DeFazios declared bankruptcy five years later, which led to Paul, Rick and Bill regaining control and bringing back specialty products like ring bologna and scrapple that the DeFazios had decided were too time-consuming to make.

But Paul Salsburg felt differently. "There were items that may have only sold 100 or 200 pounds a week, but they brought in 100 to 200 customers," he said in 1993.

In 1998, Penn Dutch was one of the only local stores selling spiral-cut hams, thanks to its $10,000 Spirocutter machine.

In 2004, with Edwin Salsburg's grandson Greg Salsburg serving as president, Penn Dutch opened a second store in a new shopping center at 3201 N. State Road 7, just south of Sample Road in Margate.

A full-page ad announcing the grand opening pledged the new location "will offer its customers the same delicious smoked sausage, Canadian bacon, ham, turkey and a dozen other items processed in their immaculate Hollywood processing plant, featuring computer-controlled smokehouses that use hickory wood chips for its uniquely special smoked flavor."

Italian sausages would be made right on the Margate premises, the ad promised. The new store would also feature an in-house bakery, a "farmer's market" with a full selection of "crisp, gleaming" fruits and vegetables and daily-caught fresh fish including salmon, jumbo shrimp, catfish, tilapia and deep-water snapper.

A snack bar would feature Penn Dutch's signature hot dog, the crowd pleasing, half-pound "Beef Bellybuster," the ad said.

Even before this year's listeria outbreaks led to the Salsburgs’ decision to close both stores permanently, the company had seen tragedy.

In 1987, Syd Levy, a 76-year-old charity worker at Doctors Hospital in Hollywood, was parked in the Penn Dutch parking lot in Hollywood when she was shot in the chest and killed at close range by someone who stole her pocketbook.

In 1993, two employees of the Hollywood store entered the premises after hours. Angelo Smith knew Vincent Gregg had keys to the store because he often returned at night to move meats from the smoker to the refrigerator. Smith asked Gregg to take him along so he could retrieve his house keys. Smith shot Gregg to death outside the store after Gregg apparently interfered with Smith's burglary plan. Smith was convicted of first-degree murder in 1995.

And in 1999, a butcher named John Benamor, who started his 20-year career at Penn Dutch smoking hams and making hot dogs, met a tragic end at the store.

Benamor, then the store's longest-serving employee, was feeding ground meat into one of the store's meat mixers when the sleeve of his white coat got caught on one of the machine's mixing paddles. Benamor was pulled into the machine with such force that his head hit one of the paddles, authorities said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said the 10-year-old Italian-made mixer never had a safety guard, which might have prevented Benamor's death.

Grief counselors showed up the following day to help console Penn Dutch's employees, whom the Salsburgs often described as family.

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