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Chicago food on the hoof: Scrrrrrrrream for Moo & Oink!


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

 

Win a year’s worth of Moo & Oink! In their Sizzling Summer Giveaway on Facebook, the meaty company is offering the winner a year’s worth of hot links, chitterlings, burgers, hot dogs, chicken fritters, rib tips and other favorites.

The Moo & Oink brand has deep Chicago roots. Who could forget its classic jingle? Composed by Chicago DJ Richard Pegue, with lyrics penned by the company’s then 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. It was so popular that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler sang it on “Saturday Night Live” in 2005.

Moo & Oink

Now part of Best Chicago Meat Co., Moo & Oink originated as a wholesaler called Calumet Meat Co. founded by Levy’s great uncle, Russian immigrant Joe Lezak, in 1948. The family’s meaty heritage dated back more than 150 years, to forebears who were kosher meat sellers and shochets (ritual slaughterers) in the Pale.

The Lezaks immigrated to the U.S. between 1910 and 1922, and by the 1940s, they 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 meat 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, who retired as Moo & Oink’s president a few 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 onetime 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, and rib tips, which are smoked up by barbecue houses all across the South and West sides.

Until a couple of years ago, the company ran four retail stores, but those closed when the firm went into Chapter 7 bankruptcy and was ordered to liquidate following family disputes and sales declines from a onetime high of more than $70 million. Best Chicago Meat, which owns Glenmark Foods, Jemm Burger and David’s Kosher, bought the brand and its recipes at auction in 2012 for a reported $530,000, and continues to make Moo & Oink’s most popular products, wholesaling to local retailers.

Moo & Oink chitlins