Butchers’ Block – Burleigh Street is Milwaukee’s Meat Street

With a third shop entering the scene, Burleigh is Milwaukee’s Meat Street
With summertime grills blazing, the question that comes up most frequently is: Where’s the beef (or chicken, or pork, etc.)?
Milwaukee’s westsiders know the answer: Burleigh Street.
Specifically, from 85th to 78th streets, three butcher shops of long-time renown are succeeding in the face of mega-food centers that have swallowed up many of the mom-and-pop grocery stores in town.
Bunzel’s Meat Market, 8415 W. Burleigh St., Hank & Charlies Butcher Shoppe, 7828 W. Burleigh St. and since June 3, Linda the Butcher, 7934 W. Burleigh St. all do business within blocks of one another.
The area supported four butcher shops as little as 10 years ago, according to Howard Weissenborn, owner of Hank & Charlies and the senior-most proprietor on the Butchers’ Block – a carnivore’s dream and a vegetarian’s nightmare.
So what makes this West Side neighborhood such a prime site for so many butcher shops?
“Being a journeyman butcher for 25 years throughout the city of Milwaukee,” Weissenborn says, “I think this is a meat-and-potatoes area.” He estimates that most of his customers come from a 10-mile radius of his shop.
“Occasionally, our customers do move,” Weissenborn says. “We have customers that come from upper Wisconsin. We have a lady coming from Illinois today. They’ve just been used to quality meats – the things that they like – and they’ll stock up.”
Hank & Charlies is an old-fashioned-style butcher shop with long glass counters full of beef, poultry and pork. Weissenborn’s shop specializes in aged beef, family-sized chicken, beef and lamb pot pies and cranberry burgers.
“What we’ve done is replace the fat with cranberries and given you a full-bodied hamburger flavor which is good for you,” Weissenborn says of his fruity concoction.
Weissenborn bought the shop in 1989, but Hank & Charlies has been in the neighborhood since 1949.
Bunzel’s Meat Market stands about five blocks west, offering choice meats, deli and catering services along with a selection of standard grocery and produce items. The Bunzels moved from 59th & Appleton three and a half years ago in search of a larger space and a store with parking, says Chip Bunzel, a fifth-generation butcher.
Before he moved to the Burleigh location, Bunzel met with Weissenborn to explain why the competitor was moving there.
“We got along great when we were over there (on Appleton) and we still do,” says Bunzel. “It’s a friendly competition. He has his customers. I have my customers. And I talked to him not long ago and asked him how business has been since we moved in and he said his business had increased. So has ours. It’s creating more traffic down Burleigh.”
In fact, Bunzel said that if customers are looking for something he doesn’t carry, he sends them down to Hank & Charlies. It’s the extra attention his customers get, along with quality products, that keep his customers coming back.
“I think people get more and more irritated with the customer service in the bigger, larger stores,” Bunzel says explaining why his business has remained successful in the face of the huge grocery store chains in the area. “How often do you go into one of those stores and the only person to ever say ‘Hi’ to you is the cashier?”
Bunzel’s catering business, specializing in pig roasts, has kept the family busy. (Bunzel’s sister, aunt, nephews and nieces work at the shop, too.) So busy that Larry Bunzel, Chip’s father, who started the shop on Appleton, hasn’t been able to retire.
“I’m retired, but I’m still full-time until we get some help,” the elder Bunzel says.
So why would anyone want to set up shop between those two well-established meat markets?
For Linda Maslow, it was a matter of finding the perfect space to open her butcher shop, deli and bakery.
Maslow’s father, Bill Sarles, owned and operated Bill the Butcher on 36th & North Avenue before he passed away a year and a half ago. Maslow worked for 17 years with her father as well as working in the meat departments of larger grocery stores in the Milwaukee area. The name of her business, Linda the Butcher, is part tribute to her late father, part brand-name recognition.
“I’ve had people stop here that I went to high school with that knew I worked for my father and figured this was me,” she says.
Maslow had searched the Milwaukee area for a space large enough for both a butcher shop and deli but couldn’t find an affordable building. She stopped in the Meurer’s bakery at 7934 W. Burleigh for hot ham and rolls one Sunday morning and noticed there was very little product in the store.
“I asked, ‘What’s going on?'” Maslow recalls. “And they said, ‘This is our last day.’ So the bell went off.”
She contacted Meurer’s, which had decided to close its retail outlets throughout Milwaukee, and concluded the spot would be perfect for her new shop. Maslow wanted to add ready-to-eat foods among the regular offerings of a butcher shop.
“Here, we have a restaurant license,” she says. “I can cook. I can sell hot prepared foods. I have a big following and I’m pretty certain that my customers will find me.”
Maslow’s specialty is ribs, cooked or raw. She’s looking forward to the up-coming Packer season, not only because she’s a huge fan (she attended the Super Bowl in San Diego with her father), but for business as well.
“I know everybody wants to watch the game and drink beer, so on (Packer) Sundays, I’ll do all barbecue ribs, chicken and beef brisket for hot beef sandwiches and pork shoulder,” she says.
Maslow wasn’t concerned about competing directly with Hank & Charlies and Bunzel’s.
“I know Hank & Charlies has his following and Bunzels have their following and I’ll just be the gal in the middle trying to get my following,” Maslow says.

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