For many years, Jim Wedell worked two jobs to support his family.
Two very different jobs.
For years, Wedell worked as a meat cutter at Hi-Lo Foods, Dominick’s Foods and Riverside Foods. Then he decided to become a police officer, working in Berkeley and Hinsdale. While he enjoyed that job, he didn’t care for the politics that came with it.
So Wedell decided to put everything into his other career.
Jim learned a lot from those old butchers. When the owner of Woodridge Foods, one of Jim’s bosses, told Jim that he was selling the business, Jim saw his opportunity and took it.
Wedell had been eying the storefront on Cass Avenue that once housed Wronski’s Drugs, watching as it was divided into smaller units. In 1982, he and his wife, Janet, filled one of those storefronts with coolers, cases and all the equipment needed in a butcher shop. Wedell’s old boss from Woodridge spent six weeks helping him set up shop.
And opened its doors.
Wedell’s son, Eddie, had planned on following his dad into law enforcement. But when he graduated from Southern Illinois University, Wedell needed his help with the butcher shop. And Eddie’s new career began.
Jim’s Quality Meats has always been a family business. The Wedell family all worked in the shop. Eddie would take care of the shop when Wedell went on vacation. “He knew things were well taken care of while he was gone,” Eddie said.
When Wedell and Janet retired in 1999, Eddie took over the business.
Eddie resembles Wedell in many ways. And like Wedell, Eddie enjoys being his own boss.
Eddie also learned about quality from his dad, which determines his choice of suppliers. He has one source for chickens, another supplier for steak cuts, and yet another for hanging meats. Eddie and his staff still break down the carcasses themselves.
“We’re known for our steaks. And we’re known for our pork, and for our lamb," he said. "But we’re really known for our sausage. We make a lot of sausage." Eddie also offers prepared meats and poultry, and other meals that customers can quickly prepare at home.
Like Wedell, Eddie greets many of his customers by name and asks about their families. He also follows Janet’s example in caring for others. He remembers his mom making a pot roast dinner and taking it to an elderly customer. As his parents did, Eddie still makes deliveries to customers who can’t get out. “We want people to feel like they’re coming home, like family,” he said.
The decline of weekday family mealtime has affected business. Saturdays and Sundays are Eddie’s busiest days. But he’s seeing more people eating at home again because of the economy, and he often shares cooking ideas with his customers.
He also sees a lot more men cooking. “Men like to eat,” he laughed. “They learned to cook from their moms. They’ll say, ‘My mom made it this way.’”
Eddie’s customers come from far and wide, many with special orders. “It’s nothing for me to get an order for 100 ribeye steaks. And that’s not for a business. It’s for a private party,” he said. “Those were people from Morris. And I have people take meat back to Kentucky, to Alabama. All over.”
Running a butcher shop is physically demanding. “We brought in two carcasses today," he said. "One was 350 lbs. The other was 812 lbs. Hand-cutting that takes a lot of work.”
His 12-hour days finish with sweeping, scrubbing and cleaning in preparation for the next day. On Mondays and Tuesdays, when the shop is closed, Eddie is often still there, handling special orders, calling suppliers and catching up on paperwork.
Eddie takes great pride in his work. “We offer great quality, great service and fair prices,” he said
And what makes it all worthwhile?
Eddie smiled and said, “When people come back and tell us how great the meat was.”
Jim’s Quality Meats is located at 7515 S. Cass Avenue in Darien. The phone number is 630-969-3635.