Most sausage connoisseurs in Chicago are familar with Maxwell Street and its infamous Polish sandwiches. Makowski's produces Polish sausage for a number of Maxwell Street stands in the city. 

Safe and sound

The Makowski’s facility also houses one of the US Dept. of Agriculture’s Chicago district offices. The representative has an office on the second floor and is in the plant twice a day walking the production floor, looking at records and performing food safety tests. “We love having the USDA in house. It’s great having an extra set of eyes looking at our operations,” Makowski says. “We appreciate knowing if there’s something we need to fix or work on.”

In addition to being reviewed by USDA, the plant is regularly inspected by a third-party auditor. The company verifies processes and procedures to ensure operations keep food safety top of mind.

“Food safety starts with employee training – making sure that everyone is properly trained on food safety procedures,” Makowski explains. “We have a lot of food safety procedures in place. The last thing we would want to do is make anyone sick. Food safety is very important to me.”

Five years ago, the company had a product recall. The recall wasn’t food safety related – rather is was for an undeclared allergen. “Having a recall was a big deal and was very costly – I want to be sure we do whatever we can to avoid that happening again.”

Last year was the first year Makowski decided to invest in recall insurance. “It’s very expensive, but it’s worth it,” she says.

Makowski's has two stuffers on its produciton floor- both can handle skinless or natural casing sausage.

Customer relations

Fifty percent of the company’s product is sold under the Makowski’s Real Sausage brand, the rest is co-packed for foodservice and retail customers around the country. Makowski’s customers are 50 percent foodservice and 50 percent retail – 25 percent are large customers, 50 percent are medium-sized and the remaining 25 percent are small-batch customers. And, 98 percent of the sausage produced leaves the plant cooked and ready to eat; 3 percent is raw.

“All our raw product is for foodservice customers, and we have a co-packer that handles that product for us,” Makowski says. “We run more efficiently running cooked product than we do raw product. If we ever wanted to get into more raw product we’d need to set up a second shift after we’re finished with our cooked product for the day. For now, we’ll stick with what we’re doing, but there’s room for expansion if we decide to get more into raw processing.”

Makowski’s distributes product nationwide, primarily through distributors in the Midwest.

In addition to wearing the hat of president and owner, Makowski also manages all the sales for the company. “I’ve built so many relationships through the years that the customers are used to, and prefer, dealing with me,” she says. “We’ve had three different sales reps through the years, but in the end, it’s easier for me to handle that part of the business because it requires a lot of work.”