CLEVELAND - The little bell at the top of the door rings every few seconds as another customer enters the store to buy Slovenian smoked sausage, which has become the chief calling card for a little meat market which has been operated by a single family for nearly a hundred years.
Azman Meats is a small store on East 200th Street in Northeast Cleveland, but the product it has produced since 1917 still draws in customers who are looking for the award-winning food.
"We work very hard to maintain the same flavor without changing recipes," said owner Bill Azman who represents the third generation of his family to operate the store.
Azman began working in the store when it was on St. Clair Avenue at East 65th Street, in the heart of the Slovenian community. Azman's grandfather had begun the business in 1917 and handed over the reins to his son.
"My father would get up early in the morning to go to the store," said Azman, "and I always wanted to go to work with him."
Eventually Azman moved into the operation when he was not in school. "Well, the whole family was down there," remembered Azman. "My grandma and all my aunts and uncles; everybody worked," he said.
Azman Meats was a family affair. It still is. Bill and his wife, Marie, run the store where the bell keeps ringing when the front door swings open. Any observer may be reminded of the old American Express credit card television commercial where the catch phrase was "Don't leave home without it."
Even customers who are leaving Cleveland for a vacation elsewhere remember to make a stop at Azman Meats. "We're actually going down to Florida for four months and we have to get a big load to go down with us," said Steve Wahl of Chardon as he held a big bag of smoked sausages.
Lindsay Vlay Williams, who used to leave in Chester Township but who now resides in Virginia Beach, had a bag of smoked sausages. "So even several states away, I'm taking it back with me in my carry-on," she said.
For 97 years, Azman Meats has served the community as a sausage maker. Bill keeps a steady hand in the process in the backroom while Marie and other workers are in the front of the store, selling Slovenian smoked sausage, bacon, butter and other products in the store.
"It's about quality," said Marie. "You can't cheat; you can't give a poor piece of meat," she said. "You have to give the good stuff."
That was always the philosophy of the two earlier generations of Azmans who kept food on the tables of many families. Among the photographs in the family album of sausage makers is one of U.S. astronaut Suni Williams, who took several links of smoked sausage with her aboard the space shuttle in 2007. Azman was surprised when NASA called him and wanted to know the ingredients he used in the product.
Shortly, NASA determined it was okay for the astronaut to take Slovenian smoked sausage to space. Once the U.S. astronauts linked up (yes, the pun is intended!) with the International Space Station, Williams shared some of the sausage with Russian cosmonauts who were in earth orbit. Azman laughs at the prospect of the space travelers from two nations sharing his sausage in space.
Still, the little meat market is grounded on Earth. It is a strong family business pushing toward a century of making sausage, which in many ways has an out-of-this-world flavor. Just ask the American and Russian space travelers who dined on a food produced in Cleveland.
Azman Meats is located at 610 East 200th St. in Cleveland.