Ask the Market

“Golden Age” of OAM

The Olive Avenue Market
Carl and Maxine Hill Living The Golden Age at Carl’s Butcher Shop

 By: John North Hill

My name is John North Hill; eldest son of Carl Wallace Hill and Maxine Evelyn Hill, former long time owners and operators, Carl’s Butcher Shop, located in the Olive Avenue Market, 530 West Olive Avenue, Redlands, California. At the time of this writing it had been more than 45 years since I last set foot in the Olive Avenue Market.

At the age of 10 (1948), during my summer vacation from school, dad proposed to hire me to work at his shop for $7.50 dollars per week 6 plus days per week. I accepted and started as the clean-up and go-fer boy I was so happy to be earning my own first wages a fortune to me in those days. Looking back, I didn’t really feel that it as being work to me, it was an adventure the first of many to come.

Carl Wallace Hill

Maxine Evelyn Hill

I soon learned the who’s and what’s about the market. The building was owned by Arthur Nolder, who lived in the Spanish styled house next to the market he sometimes took me fishing with him. Dad rented the meat department space from him for all those many years. The grocery store side was rented to Sid Tanner, who bought the business from Max Rosen. Sid employed Pat Stewart as the cashier and running bookkeeper. He also used his wife Ethel nearly full time and two sons, Joel and Jimmy to help on weekends and summer vacations. Later, he hired a young man, Olin Bishop as stocker was it Olin or another lad, later, last name Larsen, who encouraged me to join the Air National Guard? good decision, John!

When I first started servicing (waiting on) customers I was no taller than the display counters and the customers had to look over the counter and down to see my face. Dad soon taught me to read the weight scale he never up-dated that thing and we had to calculate everything with a unit price over one dollar i.e., for a price of $1.25 per pound, we had to take the scale price of the item at $1.00, then add the unit price at $.25 to arrive at the total good math practice, but a real headache when we were busy. In fact, there were not too many items priced over $1.00 in those days so I guess dad thought it did not warrant the cost of a new scale. At first, I had a wooden box at the side of the scale on which I stood to read it.

I soon graduated to slicing lunch meats and cheeses, grinding hamburger meat; later mixing, grinding and making sausage, cut blocks of cheese, always cleaning pots, pans, platters, the slicing machine, the cube-steak machine, and that damned band saw; cleaning the meat cases, changing the sawdust on the floor, scrapping the butcher block each night, sharpening the knives and always keeping my hands clean and maintaining a smile and giving courteous treatment to every single customer (thanks dad great lessons to remember and practice all my life). Dad, you were a true first class act when it came to servicing your customers!

 

Special events remembered

Installing the huge walk-in meat box, adding a UV light inside it (don’t look directly at the blue light John!), replacing one of the display cases, surfacing the floor behind the counters with new wood planks (my brother Tom and I soon learned to take off and slide to our desired destination in the saw dust on those planks since the sawdust keep it both clean and perfect for sliding), replacing the old sway-back butcher block with a new Boos block, changing starters in the florescent overhead lights and cleaning the reflector panels, cleaning and cleaning and cleaning the wooden racks which covered the floor of the meat cases, continually cleaning the pans and display trays, using Ammonia cleaner to clean the inside of the cases (don’t breathe those potent fumes!), learning to tie the roast string knot (I continue using it to this today), always use a sheet of fresh wax paper for everything you weigh on the scale and have patience and be respectful to every customer regardless of their purchase total.

During those years at the shop I became a young man and continued through two years at the SBJC before leaving for my next adventure, the US Army another good decision, John! I remember sometimes when I would shake the hand of an adult man I could feel his squeeze sensing the softness of the skin on my palm very soft due to constantly working in the oils of the fats at the shop. I’m certain causing mysterious thoughts in their imaginations.

Dad stood on his feet all day long, six plus days a week each and every week for nearly 30 years I really don’t know how he did it. He continually displayed an unusually optimistic, positive, jovial attitude and winning personality really a special man who dedicated his life to his family and that shop and his customers. We kids remember that regardless of his fatigue or situation, he would find many weekends where he would pile us in the car and go for the day a visit to Newport Beach, a picnic, to Forest Home in the mountains, fishing he was always there with energy and fun with and for his family. Dad really liked people that is probably why being a butcher and owning his own shop was such a high for him he meet, talked and interacted with so many people each and every day.

 

Personal stories

Later, brother Tom told me that dad’s chili was so famous in Redlands that when he made a new batch and the aroma reached the outdoors, one could hear the tires of his many faithful chili customer’s cars screeching to a halt outside the store on Chili Day! The recipe remains a Tom and John guarded secret to this day it was and still is totally delicious! Brother Tom still has the original recipe hand written by dad in pencil no less on a torn piece of meat wrapping paper. He never used a tablet and his records were recorded on a slice of white meat wrapping paper.

Dad always had the knack for using word-of-mouth advertising to promote something new or special he had received for his customers it travelled through Redlands like a wildfire and yes, it worked so well that he never had to use traditional advertising yes, dad was a true master at all aspects of his trade.

Dad was an artist in his trade a gourmand butcher as his many dedicated customers knew to the delight of their eyes, noses and stomachs. He really enjoyed preparing the display case with cuts of his daily offerings always paying special attention to their presentation. He always respected his customer’s need to not leave too much fat on the cut although he knew that fat was sometimes essential for preparing the piece for the best taste and tenderness. He often gave his customers extra fat for that reason.

Dad aged all of his beef before cutting and offering for sale again, aging promotes tenderness, and the best flavor. By aging the beef it lost a certain percentage of water content and thus, his profit margin was less. Today when one buys a piece of packaged beef and it looks red, it is usually sitting on an absorbent sheet which collects the water contained in the beef, thus, one is paying a certain percentage of the cost per pound for water  it’s called fresh… but truly it’s hydrated beef!

Dad was, as is my brother Tom today, a library of recipes he gave them out freely and orally to his customers usually without prompting. Sometimes when they were involved he wrote them on a slice of white wrapping paper just his forethought for their enjoyment of his products. This is called service with the sale!

Dad would always be on the look-out for something new and saleable, such as Linguisa (Portuguese Sausage a formula beef, pork blended with delicious spices and cured in red wine), shipped from Oakland, CA via rail; New York Extra Sharp Cheese in a 50 pound block (he had to cut with a SS wire) shipped direct from the East Coast (oh God what a great cheese!), New England Blue Point Oysters (shipped fresh, overnight from the East Coast); of course his famous chili, his rotisseried chickens, hams and roasts. For holidays he would bring in the very best turkeys, Smoked Virginia Hams (still wrapped in their original hanging sacks), the best authentic hard German salami (I guarantee that you have never experienced such a delicious salami!), authentic, thick, natural skin-wrapped German Braunschweiger(?) (smoked liver sausage the German formula), fresh Mincemeat (no, you’ve never tasted this before! gourmet raisons and other natural fruits cured in brandy and natural suet), special international cheeses such as authentic imported Swiss Cheese (believe me, not Kraft!), bulk cottage cheese, bulk sauerkraut (came packed in a huge 55 gallon wooden barrel) just try putting your hand in that brine in the winter time!. Mom removed the membrane skin from the liver before slicing (gourmet preparation). He would make ground lamb, or ham, bread crumb covered, patties, etc. always offering his clients his creations  found only at Carl’s Butcher Shop. He would always give his customers a large portion taste sample of many of his new arrivals and boy did it sell product for him. Yes, dad was a true master at his trade and having fun at it almost every day!!

A few years passed and my brother Tom started working at the shop. One time Tom was standing on the wooden box grinding meat for the case when a well-meaning customer commented, that looks like fun, whereby Tom responded, yes, and it makes my hands clean. Dad laughed so hard even though he was angry at Tom for having implied to the customer that his hands had been dirty before the grinding process began no way! One of the first lessons from dad was to wash our hands and keep the clean throughout the day.

There was a little old, single, retired lady (Mrs Stein) who lived in a Court nearby who had a cat. Mrs Stein would have dad dice up a portion of a beef kidney or sometimes liver for her cat but rarely purchased something for herself. One day I waited on her she wanted one slice of bologna. I retrieved the slice from the case, placed it on a sheet of wax paper, placed it on the scale and quoted the price, 5 cents (although it did not register on the scale, 5 cents made sense to me) I hesitated before tearing-off a sheet of paper to wrap it and I asked her, do you want to take it with your or eat it here? Dad laughed so hard that he nearly wet his pants.

Many years ago I visited Redlands and wanted to visit the grave sites of my parents. I entered the Cemetery Administration Office and asked the lady on duty to find their burial site. His name, she asked?Carl Hill. Instantly, she responded, yes, the butcher at the Olive Avenue Market. Tears came to my eyes  even now when I recount this story. What lasting memories that little giant of a man at the neighbourhood butcher shop had on all of us and certainly all of his customers WOW dad !

During my youth I became interested in collecting stamps and coins. At the end of each work day at the shop I would search the register for rare/collectable coins I came up with many interesting, and somewhat valuable pieces for trading and to add to my collection. A great way to learn American history, he hold me.

Remember my $7.50 weekly wage? Well, one time dad was hard pressed for cash and he asked to borrow some of my savings. I can never remember being so tight that I would have put some of those wages in the bank I lent him the money. Later I broke the habit of being so tight and of banking my money. See what happens when you leave the nest and start running your own life? It is soooo important to take some of your youth-learned habits and the teachings of your parents (and grandparents) with you on your own life’s journey.

Being in business for himself, he maintained a self-surviving attitude it was certainly a large part of his pride being number one and shouldering all responsibilities the reality of the buck stops here attitude. Many Sundays Tom and I were hustled to the shop for a variety of work matters we were not happy campers during these times. Some times we would cut and wrap hunted game (venison) for a special customer; often after hours, we would cut and package a quarter or side of beef for someone’s freezer all part of being who and what he was and I believe as he truly wanted to be.

As was the habit of all butchers of the day, he brought home for the family, those items that did not sell that day or that week due to a variety of reasons price, dark color (age), type cut, etc. We ate the best cuts of beef, lamb, pork fillets, porterhouse, etc. We learned earlier in our lives that dark color meat meant that it was aged and unless the aging process had not gone too far, it was absolutely tender, delicious eating yes, the Hill’s always ate well. In later years I could not afford to buy many of the meats which were part of my young diet. Today, here in the south of France, I am continually reminded of dad’s fine meats, (i.e. American beef) since French beef is from huge, older cattle, dark, dense red bull-type meat tough meat and the prices are astronomical. I have become accustomed to a Mediterranean type diet first for economic reasons and now by preference.

 

Mom Maxine or Max of Carl’s Butcher Shop

What a lady! what a Mom! what a pillar of both strength and gentleness for Carl’s Butcher Shop! Mom began working at the shop in the late 50′s probably since the business was growing out of dad’s ability to handle everything himself and I was at school, or taking tennis lessons (I was the first private player coached by Coach Jim Verdick, University of Redlands) and playing on the RHS tennis team. Mom had a strong personality she was an ever-busy caring mother and wife was a tireless worker both at home and at the shop. Mom soon became the detail person at the shop. Dad carried the weighty beef from the walk-in box, cut it up on the band saw and Mom would trim and dress it for the case. She did all the lunch meats, cheeses, package products. Mom put a gentle touch to Carl’s Butcher Shop and part of Carl’s famous reputation and lasting memorial is due to Mom’s contributions.

When it was time for Mom to take a break she would sit on the stool behind the counter and eat her large curd cream or chive cottage cheese, then without delay, return to her tasks. In later years she was the driving force of the operation wherein she would control much of the day’s cuttings and presentations. Dad became the Chef, preparing the chili, BBQ’d chickens, hams, roasts, etc.. On occasion, when dad was ill or had a doctor/dentist appointment, Mom would run the entire show by herself until I arrived from school.

Mom we sometimes called her the butcherette but she always stood shoulder-to-shoulder with dad they were a team.

 

Teachings, learned habits remembered and coveted

Work ethic is something I believe dad instilled in brother Tom and me as I/we worked those many years at Carl’s Butcher Shop. I did not think of those years at the shop as working nor did I ever have any thought of comparing my work lifestyle with others i.e., my friends. It was just the way it was and if I were given the chance to return to that period in my life, I cannot imagine wanting to change or do it differently that’s called a testimonial to your teachings, dad! Thanks!

 

Dad!  We’re Still in The Kitchen!

Brother Tom is a creative cook, as was dad. Tom and I often talk by telephone and he always insists on giving me his Plat du Jour menu for something he had or would be preparing that day or later in the week. Tom enjoys preparing large projects gallons of chili, huge roasts, etc., as did dad. Dad did not follow recipes, he created recipes. He would use his hand and fingers as his spice measurer a teaspoon of this or that did not exist a pinch was his guide. Remember Tom, dad prepared quantities for sale and you are single certainly with many hovering, admiring, always hungry friends. I am certain that if dad has been reincarnated he is a kitchen somewhere preparing a gigantic something or other for his diners who are eagerly waiting to be served. Thanks Tom for naturally following dad’s giant footsteps.

 

 and the beat goes on

I have been truly blessed with having been loved, cared for, taught, encouraged, respected, and disciplined by two absolutely wonderful parents. I only hope that my lifetime accomplishments will in someway show my respect to Mom and Dad for everything they passed on to me during their and my Golden Age at Carl’s Butcher Shop, the Olive Avenue Market, Redlands, California.

Vive la (l) The Olive Avenue Market !

Respectfully,

John assistant butcher forever!
Chusclan, France

2 Comments

  1. Username* says:

    There were also 2 daughters of Carl and Maxine Hill…Carol who is deceased and Me…Linda…I still live in Redlands…

  2. Fred Dill says:

    5/1/2015
    A bunch of folks were at the Olive A Mar last month and we very interested when I recounted all the good meat I bought from Carl and Maxine. In those days they sometimes extended credit and I remember Maxine reminding Carl that certain folks didn’t get credit.
    Until 1965 I lived where I would pass by on the way home every night. My family had a lot of great meant on the barbee that I picked up on the way home.
    Truly a small family business where everyone worked hard and treated the customers right. The retail grocery business has changed completely over the years but the trend is back toward small. Try to a a place to park at the Olive Ave Market!

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