I can remember all the food we used to share sitting down together for dinner in my youth. The first thing that comes to my mind is kielbasa or Polish sausage. My father loved Polish sausage and we would have it at least once a week. It had to be Shelly Polish Sausage, no other one would do.
Shelly Brand was a well-liked brand of Polish sausage made by A. Szelagowski and Sons, Inc. The owner, Anthony Szelagowski was born in 1873 just outside Poznan, Poland. At age 14, Anthony and his brother Joseph, came to America. In 1887 he settled down in Buffalo. There were approximately 500 people of Polish decent in Buffalo at that time. By 1880 that number had grown to 5,500. They found work laboring in factories, mills and foundries. Most of them had moved to the Broadway-Fillmore area of Buffalo, Black Rock and The East Side. Buffalo once had the second biggest Polish-American population in the United States.
He married Maryann Wozniak In 1889 and after working with his brother, Anthony decided to open his own meat market in 1889. It was located at 1428 Broadway and focused on making fresh Polish sausage. Anthony ultimately discovered a recipe that worked and the market expanded. In 1914 Szelagowski shifted his focus from the retail market to the wholesale market due to demand. Szelagowski had his first plant at 1303 Broadway, but in order to enter this new market he had a plant built at 141 Mohr Ave. This which would ultimately expand to Milburn St. in Buffalo’s far East Side.
Then In 1918, Anthony’s son Chester joined the company and the business’s name was changed to “Szelagowski and Son.” This was formally incorporated in 1948. Sales exceeded $6 million by 1957 and the father and son team chose to merge with the Tobin Packing Company of Rochester, NY for a $2.5 million payout. The next year, a new plant was built in Buffalo at 755 Bailey Ave. which expanded the productivity of the company quite a bit and A. Szelagowski and Son created its most long-lasting brand, Shelly.
When Shelly Brand was began in 1957, the primary focal point was on the sausage market with their “Extra Polish” Polish sausage. Then by 1962, the line grew to include not only fresh and smoked sausage, but water-boiled hams. Shelly advertised its ham as being “slow cured, hard wood smoked then water-boiled the good old Polish way”.
The Shelly Brand jingle, courtesy Forgotten Buffalo – Classic Buffalo audio. Radio jingle for Szelagowski “Shelly” Meats.
1963 brought over 20 different cold cuts to the market including some very innovative products like bread sized “loaf” meats. These “loafs” were emulsified meat products that fit perfectly on sliced bread. Some of the new concoctions are now popular deli products like square ham loaf, relish loaf, olive loaf (which I love), and old fashion loaf. Shelly also discovered out early on that branding was an important part of its products’ success.
New products were constantly being introduced. Wieners, kiszka, head cheese (love it!), veal loaf, liver sausage (Gotta have it), and blood tongue (One of my all-time favorites) were sold under the Shelly Brand. In the late 1970s, they introduced poultry products like chicken roll and turkeys were being made. In the 1980s, the Shelly lite brand was designed for health conscience consumers. In the 1980s competition from national brands took over much of their business and sales declined. By the 1990s, production at the Bailey Ave. plant had ended and this spelled curtains for the Shelly Brand.
Over the last 50 years, Buffalo has lost much of its food culture. Brands like Queen-O pop (which I helped my uncle deliver), Wendt’s dairy, Pasco Meats, Schreiber’s brewery, Vic & Kai Ice Cream, the Iroquois Brewing Co. (my father’s favorite) and the Saturn-Visniak Beverage Co. (that I used to get in small 7.5 oz. bottles at the corner store) are gone. And it appeared that the Shelly brand was lost too, until the longtime rival Wardynski Meats purchased the brand in 2005. Ever since then, then, you can find Shelly Brand products at local grocery stores but it just isn’t the same.
Lead image: Courtesy Forgotten Buffalo – image is part of a Shelly Brand Wieners Cook-Eroo portable outdoor grill label.