My recollections of walking into Schreiner’s Fine Sausages in Glendale as a young boy are still crystal clear. A silver-haired woman with a German accent standing behind an impressive display case of meats and cheeses would come over to hand me a slice of bologna wrapped in white paper. That happened every time I went with my mom to Schreiner’s, and that is exactly why I accompanied her on Saturday morning shopping trips. Free meat.
The gray-haired woman was Maria Schreiner, originally from Stuttgart, Germany. She married Walter Schreiner and, while living in New York City, they started making sausages. “Walter was from New York, though he pretended he was from Germany,” Walter’s grandson Wally Schreiner, the shop’s current owner, tells me as I visit my childhood haunt on a warm spring day. Walter and Maria came out from the East Coast in 1952 and originally settled at 4th Street and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. Why then did they move to what was then a desolate area in the northern reaches of Glendale? “Probably cheap property,” Wally surmises. That, and there was a small German-American community already established there. The reasons may be irrelevant. What are important are the sausages: bratwurst, frankfurters, Polish, bangers, Italian, Swedish potato and breakfast sausages, among a slew of other types of meats stuffed into a casing. “Maria and Walter were totally hands-on,” Wally says. “Sausage-making is in our blood.”
Wally has been at the helm of Schreiner’s for 38 years, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Six days a week he arrives at the store at 4 a.m. But he’s not one to be the face of Schreiner’s; he’s almost always in the back office, running a small meat empire. “I always told my own kids, ‘Love what you do,’” and he seems to really believe that. In 2018 Schreiner’s is nearly identical to what it was when I was 18. “We make over 150 different products; our niche is that it is all made here,” Wally says. “If I were to bring in something else, like Boar’s Head, which you can get at Costco, then it wouldn’t work. These are our meats. I adhere to the same recipes and way of sausage” making that my grandparents started.”
And for multigenerational customers like myself, that is the reason we’ll drive out of our way to go to Schreiner’s. “The key is consistency; we’re not trying to cheapen the product,” he adds. And though the products like beef jerky taste exactly as they have for decades, change is nonetheless the other nitpicky constant in Wally’s life: Schreiner’s finds it must compete with new ideas, a new customer base and new attitudes toward meat. “I need to keep changing — we can’t just be a German deli anymore, so I look for new varieties of fresh meats.”
That includes their chorizo sausage and carne asada, stealing ideas from Food Network shows and employing social media. Bacon-wrapped meatloaf is not as German as leberkäse, but Wally offers options for customers who avoid red meat. “Yeah, we offer nitrate-free meats, chicken sausages like lemon-cilantro, even some gluten-free items, so you can still come here if you’re on a diet,” he says.
Ever-evolving American diets have made no dent in demand; Schreiner’s makes between 6,000 and 10,000 pounds of sausages each week. Their large walk-in stainless-steel smoker would make any home cook jealous. Their Black Forest ham is another classic, but you’ll also find ribeye, steaks and other cuts of meat, German mustards, German beers and wines, sauerkraut and classic European potato dishes like rösti and spätzle. Wally has expanded the business into wholesale products and catering, not to mention sausages for the local Oktoberfest.
Schreiner’s employs 16 people, most of them with Wally for more than 20 years, one more than 30. The store originally was just the current deli portion with one room in the back to make sausages. Little by little Maria and Walter were able to purchase adjoining stores and expand, now to 6,200 square feet, something Wally believes they had envisioned decades ago — a sort of familial succession, a guarantee for the next generation.
Today Schreiner’s uses the bread from Berolina Bakery next door for freshly made sandwiches from its dine-in deli. A dozen tables allow you to lounge, but many people order sandwiches to go. I ask Wally if he is surprised the business is still thriving. “Kind of,” he admits. “It’s kind of crazy. There must be something here — quality and consistency, that’s what I’ve kept.” Still, as is the case with other small businesses in Arroyoland, the present and future are sometimes tenuous. “It’s a challenge each and every day to run a small business,” he acknowledges. Increasing costs are the most obvious issue, but as Wally says, “It’s hard for me to pass that on to my customers. I try and keep my price point in line and, with everything made here, it lowers my costs.” Yet he surmises that, among folks living within a five-mile radius of the store, only 20 percent know of Schreiner’s. “There are people still out there to grab.”
As Wally and I end our talk I ask if I can photograph him in the deli, but he modestly declines. As he leads me on a property tour, he says I can photograph everyone else. “The people up front and in the back, they are the players, they are what make this business what it is today — they are Schreiner’s. I just have the name.” But it is that very name that is still a draw, even after 60 years.
Schreiner’s Fine Sausages is located at 3417 Ocean View Blvd., Glendale. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Call (818) 244-4735 or visit schreinersfinesausages.com.