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Moo & Oink meats Chicago’s barbecue needs


 
1970s commercial for Calumet Meat, “The Home of Moo and Oink.”

 
Who could forget that classic Moo & Oink jingle? Composed by Chicago DJ Richard Pegue, with lyrics penned by company CEO Barry Levy and his secretary, Lillian Bassett, that exhortation to “Wave for catfish! Moo & Oink! Scrrrrrrrream for ribs! Moo & Oink!” ran on local TV and radio stations for some two dozen years.

Moo & Oink

With Labor Day weekend coming up and the last big barbecues of summer, it seems a fitting time to talk about these meaty emporiums, known for their cookout supplies, hot links and hand-cleaned chitlins.

The family-owned firm originated as a wholesaler called Calumet Meat Co. founded by the present owners’ great uncle, Russian immigrant Joe Lezak, in 1948. The business continues a heritage that dates back more than 150 years, to forebears who were kosher meat sellers and shochets (ritual slaughterers) in the Pale.

The family immigrated to the U.S. between 1910 and 1922, and by the 1940s, the Lezaks were operating 17 butcher shops, delicatessens and meat businesses around Chicago. Patriarch Jacob Lezak, Joe’s father, worked as a shochet until he was 92. Today, another branch of the family runs L & L Packing Co., a supplier to such restaurants as Naha, Bob Chinn’s Crab House and Prairie Grass Cafe.

As more relatives joined Calumet Meat and the company expanded, adding retail sales, the name changed to Lezak & Levy Wholesale Meats and then, in 1977, to Moo & Oink. Levy, Joe Lezak’s great nephew, who retired as Moo & Oink’s president a couple of years ago, spurred the name change. He recalled:

Barry Levy

Barry Levy

“You should have seen the looks around the table when I suggested we rename the company Moo & Oink. I was about 25 at the time. The founder of Calumet Meat Company, then in his 70s, asked, ‘Moo & Ink, what is that suppose to mean?’

“ ‘Moo & Oink … you know … mmooooo, oink, oink, like the sounds the cows and pigs make. It’s name recognition; no one could you ever forget a name like Moo & Oink.’ I could see everyone at the meeting saying ‘Moo & Oink’ over and over again quietly to themselves. After three or four minutes of silence, Joe Lezak, my great uncle, who 40 years earlier, had named the company Calumet Meat after the street location at 31st and Calumet, asked, ‘You really want to change the name of the company to Moo & Ink?’

“A smile, a frown, a smile, a sigh, ‘Okay! If that’s your name, Moo & Ink it is.’ Over six generations in the meat business and now we are Moo and Oink.”

How the Lezaks and Levys, whose ancestors also include a long line of rabbis, moved from kosher meat markets to a business best known for its pork products isn’t clear, but perhaps it had something to do with Joe Lezak’s introduction of “kosher ham.”

Moo & Oink hot links

Moo & Oink became famous for what the company promoted as the “Cleanest ’lil Chitlin in America … cleaned year round by our experienced team of Chitlin Cleaners.” Now that chitterlings are less popular, Moo & Oink’s best-known product may be its Chicago-style hot links, coarse-ground, spicy sausages in natural casings, smoked up by barbecue houses all across the South and West sides.

Still run by the Lezak and Levy family, Moo & Oink today has four locations. The largest, in Austin, houses the company’s smokehouse and chitterling cleaning operation. The oldest store, in South Shore, opened in 1982. A third outlet is in Auburn Gresham, and they operate a full-service supermarket in Hazel Crest. Moo & Oink also wholesales its brand-name products to other local retailers.

Moo & Oink chitlins