There’s an old adage that says “no one wants to see how the sausage is made,” but the process of stuffing sticky raw ground meat into a slimy animal intestine deserves more respect.
With respectable ingredients, the craft of sausage making honors old-world traditions with pride and KC’s early rich history of immigration, specifically from central and eastern Europe, has created the backbone of our current top-notch, humble—and sometimes overlooked—craft sausage scene.
Werner’s in Mission, Krizman’s in Strawberry Hill and Scimeca’s in Northtown are three long-standing establishments that have undisputed legacies with loyal clienteles. Many of us locals have become accustomed to seeing Scimeca’s bright-pink sausages in the aisles of our grocery stores, but Werner’s and Krizman’s remain undiscovered gems for many. These mom-and-pop shops have all persevered through nearly a century of tech advances and the rise of big-box stores to continue to serve some of the best sausages in the city, all using original recipes.
These modest institutions have stood the test of time by honoring the timeless aphorism, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” No antibiotics, no MSG, no fillers and no preservatives—just high-quality ingredients, natural casing (a must) and recipes inspired by the old country.
Werner’s Fine Sausages
Werner’s German roots are proudly displayed not only behind their deli counter but also in their market of imported German goods and soccer merch decked out with the country’s flag. Tucked along Johnson Drive, Werner’s is a charming, cluttered little joint that doesn’t worry itself with keeping up with the Joneses. And why should it? Time-tested recipes have kept the shop open since 1898. At Werner’s, they let their sausage do the impressing.
The shop was originally a Swedish grocery store, Swanson’s Delicatessen, opened by the Swanson family in Westport (where Cupini’s is now). Werner Wohlert, who immigrated from Germany in 1959 and worked for the Swanson family until he bought the shop in 1973, transformed it to reflect his German roots and moved the store to Johnson Drive, back when the strip was filled with German-owned shops. In 1995, David Miller and his wife took over and focused on selling mainly sausages, bumping the selection up from four German-style sausages to twenty homemade varieties.
The shop’s specialties are German-style bratwurst, knackwurst, Polish sausage and Swedish potato rolls. The Swedish potato roll recipe, which has one-third each of beef, pork and potato, has been with Werner’s since it opened more than a hundred years ago by the Swansons. General manager Rachel Cochran believes Werner’s is the only place in the metro that makes a potato roll. The other three sausages were created by Werner, and their recipes remain unchanged. Overall, there are twenty sausages in regular rotation. Almost all are smoked with hickory in the custom-built smokehouse, along with their bacon and pork chops.
“All the machinery in the back is older than I am,” says Cochran, who is forty-three. I haven’t counted the female sausage masters in KC, but I feel confident saying that Bernie Gumpert is one of a few. Gumpert and Cochran have both worked at Werner’s for over two decades.
Every Saturday year-round, Werner’s grills outside from 11 am to 2:30 pm and serves its specialty sausage hot in a bun with toppings of your choice. Enjoy a homemade side of barbecue beans or authentic German potato salad, a delicious vinegar-y recipe that has been strictly passed down orally. Deli sandwiches (don’t miss the schnitzel) are available during normal business hours.
Krizman’s House of Sausage
There’s not a lot going on in Krizman’s storefront—just a single deli counter housing a variety of select craft sausages. But behind the scenes, Krizman’s small-batch handcrafted sausages are sold by the thousands to restaurants and grocery stores and through distributors like US Foods and Sysco. You’ve most likely eaten one of Krizman’s sausages at your favorite barbecue joint, maybe even a special proprietary blend at Jack Stack or Hayward’s. Wholesale is the name of the game for the Strawberry Hill sausage shop, and it’s most likely the business model that saved the shop during the supermarket takeover.
As owner Joe Krizman III tells the story, his grandfather, born in Croatia in 1896, came to the US with fifty dollars and no ability to speak English (his parents didn’t want him to have to fight in WWI). After working in KC’s meatpacking houses, Joe’s grandfather opened Krizman’s grocery store in the heart of Strawberry Hill, featuring house-made sausage, with what would be his future brother-in-law in 1939. Joe’s dad took over the store in 1969 and, foreseeing the fate of his family’s grocer with the rise of big-box stores, shut it down to open a sausage factory across the street in 1972, the establishment that still stands to this day.
The family-owned business uses three original recipes from Joe’s grandfather’s day: Polish sausage, blood sausage and head cheese. Head cheese is pork cheek grinded with seasonings and sold like a lunch meat. I was given a slice of head cheese during my visit, and the terrine-like cold cut was unlike anything I had ever had. It was tender, rich, gelatinous and one of the most inspiring bites I’ve had in a long time.
Krizman’s is the only place in KC that makes blood sausage, a popular delicacy within Strawberry Hill’s rich Slavic community around the winter holidays. With beef blood from Bichelmeyer Meats, Krizman’s keeps it traditional.
“You either love it or you hate it,” Joe says. “I love it.”
The retail space slings a generous amount of sausages from their deli counter, smoked and unsmoked. From bratwurst to andouille, bangers and barbecue rolls, no matter what you’re cooking, Joe says, “we have a sausage for that.”
Scimeca’s (pronounced sha-meh-kuh’s) is a household name for many of us locals. The sharp pungency of tender pork cut with whole fennel and red pepper flakes is a familiar childhood favorite. Some may even remember visiting the Scimeca family’s grocery store, a full-service deli specializing in Italian and Greek food.
The store was opened in 1935 by Frank “Chico” Scimeca alongside his father, Filippo, an immigrant from Palermo, Sicily, who came to the U.S. at the turn of the century with “six dollars in his pockets and a sausage recipe for ten pounds.”
The original store in Columbus Park was lost to the I-70 highway and moved to Independence Avenue and the Paseo, where it would remain for half a century before being sold in 2002. During that time, Chico’s son Phil and grandson Frank opened a USDA facility to streamline the family’s famous Italian sausage, which by that time had earned its rightful place as the Italian sausage of Kansas City, using the same recipe that Fillipo came to the U.S. with.
Despite making a whopping average of fifteen thousand pounds a week, to this day, the sausages are still handcrafted, hand-linked and made with a hydraulic stuffer.
“We’ve been approached by several manufacturers of machinery, we’ve tried [them], and it just doesn’t give our product justice,” says Phil, the current patriarch of Scimeca’s.
The stuffer is gentle and doesn’t smear the fat, retaining the sausage’s bright-pink hue, a trait that Scimeca’s renowned Italian sausage is known for.
In July of 2020, nearly twenty years after closing the grocery store, the Scimecas reopened the family deli and retail store on a corner in Northtown. It’s run by Phil’s daughter Toni Bonadonna, who wanted to revive the “old-school corner grocery store” and begin shipping her family’s product nationwide. Guests can grab a chicken parm sandwich for lunch while stocking up on pasta, cheeses, cold cuts, meatballs or pizza toppings for Sunday dinner, a common Italian-American tradition.
It had been a while since I had the Italian sausage from my childhood, a staple ingredient in my dad’s spaghetti. I added it in large chunks to a pasta and doused it with a homemade parmesan cream sauce. The sharp aromatic flavor that I had grown up with had not gotten tired. It was as juicy, crumbly and pronounced as ever.