A cut above as both a butcher and a character
By Jeff Manes firstname.lastname@example.org June 17, 2014 10:28AM
Pete Lange | Jeff Manes/For Sun-Times Media
If you go
Lange’s Old Fashioned Meat Market is at 218 W. 7th St., Michigan City; (219) 874-0071; email@example.com; langesmeatmarket.com.
Updated: July 19, 2014 6:09AM
“Our wurst is the best.”
— Sign in front of Lange’s Old Fashioned Meat Market
With all of the unique antiques on display, the Harrison clan of the television show “Pawn Stars” would be in seventh heaven if they walked into Lange’s Old Fashioned Meat Market in Michigan City.
A vegan would be traumatized.
Also on display are Old World home-created sausages, aged steaks, veal, lamb, smoked chops, hams and snack sticks.
Owner Pete Lange is quite a character behind the counter. I found him somewhat eccentric and extremely intelligent. The guy has a degree in sociology with a minor in accounting.
Lange’s Old Fashioned Meat Market reminds me of a small-town barber shop. Friends stop by to sit and chat. He keeps a keg of beer behind his counter and serves frosty steins filled with the amber brew — gratis. Lange himself does not imbibe, saying he’s goofy enough without it.
Lange, a colorful raconteur, had plenty of great stories for me. He’s met some famous people through the years. I’d love to retell the stories of his hilarious encounters with the likes of business magnate Rupert Murdoch, former President Bill Clinton and a couple of the Chicago Blackhawks, but those juicy tales were off the record.
Lange, 54, lives between Michigan City and LaPorte and has owned and operated his business for 23 years. He was presented the Indiana Hidden Treasure Award by former Gov. Frank O’Bannon, and in 1993, his shop was featured in the food section of the Los Angeles Times.
Pete, I’m a human interest columnist. I notice stuff about people. If you don’t mind me asking, how big are those things? They look like a pair of gun boats for goodness sakes.
“I wear a size 18 shoe,” he said. “When I was in ninth grade, I was about a foot shorter and wore a size 16. We’d skip school and go to shoe stores for laughs. The shoe salesmen would touch the end of my toes to make sure I didn’t have merchandise hidden in there.”
Did you grow up in Northwest Indiana?
“No, I’m from a small town in Michigan called Three Oaks. My first job was at the age of 8. I delivered the South Bend Tribune. When I turned 15, I started picking apples and peaches at an orchard. At 18, I worked at Cheker gas station.”
Gale Sayers used to do their commercials on television — “That Cheker, it’s a gas.” Now they’re known as Speedway.
“I wanted to be an FBI agent but ended up working for a steel company for nine years. I saw the handwriting on the wall and got out before the place went out of business. During that time period, I was in Michigan City and noticed the huge house that was originally on this property. It was in sad shape. There were 175 tires in the basement. I had the house torn down and had this place built.
“The first two weeks I was here, all I sold was hot dogs, bratwurst and liver sausage. I had a woman come in one day ask for two T-bone steaks. I told her that I didn’t sell steaks.”
But the woman planted a seed.
“I went out and bought a saw. I’d gone to college with a guy whose dad was in the meat business in Indianapolis. I met with the guy and he set me up. I started selling prime steaks in here. It took off.”
Are you a self-taught butcher?
“Pretty much. I got my first taste of butchering when a good friend of mine brought in three elk and laid them on my table.”
What are some of your best-selling items?
“Beef jerky, turkey jerky, chicken jerky, honey jerky ... ”
You’re reminding of the character Bubba in “Forrest Gump” with all the varieties of shrimp — pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp burger, shrimp Jell-O ...
“The honey jerky is made with ground sirloin, honey and wine. We marinade it for three days and smoke it for 24 hours. Then we have the snack sticks which are mild, medium, and we do a teriyaki that’s a big seller. We also do a hot sausage and one that’s very hot.
“We smoke our own pork chops and hams. When you bite into one of our hot dogs you don’t have to worry about anything looking back at you. You know what I mean? We do ribs here on the weekend. Around the holidays we ship hams and turkeys to all 50 states and into Canada.”
Impressive. I bet a good portion of your business is word of mouth.
“I was in Orlando, Florida, about three years ago and a woman asked me: ‘How’s the meat business in Michigan City? I love your store.’ She was from Tulsa but had stopped by our store while visiting her parents. I don’t advertise at all.”
Pete, whether at home or at a restaurant, how do you like your steaks cooked?
“I want it so a good vet can bring it back to life. Prime New York Strip — two minutes per side and your done.”
Where do you get your meat?
“Out of Indianapolis.”
I’ve been watching you deal with customers; you’re a people person.
“Many years ago, a very dear friend of mine told me, ‘If you want to learn something about somebody, just cut their meat a little bit slower.’ By the time first-time customers leave here, I usually know where they’re from, how they found me and what they do for a living. I’m not being nosy. That’s who I am. I simply find people interesting.”
We’re birds of a feather in that respect.
“My goal is to make sure that people who walk into my store taste everything we offer whether they purchase anything or not. My other goal is to make sure they feel better about themselves than when they walked in.”
Since interviewing Lange, I’ve tried his beefy jerky. It’s like no jerky I’ve eaten. It was at least an inch thick. I sliced off chunks of it and nuked it like Lange recommended. It melted in my mouth. His prime New York strip? To die for.
Do yourself a favor, stop in and have a beer on the vivacious entrepreneur with the sociology degree and the size 18s. The funny and friendly German will most likely cut your meat just a tad slow.