Hillside—Seth Leavitt, of Englewood, has completely proven wrong Otto von Bismarck, the first chancellor of Germany, who famously said, “Laws are like sausages—it is best not to see them being made.” Lawmaking notwithstanding, the 18,000 square foot, U-shaped Abeles & Heymann gourmet hot dog factory Leavitt owns in Hillside, New Jersey, runs like the well-oiled, fresh-smelling, savory hot dog-making machine that it is. Leavitt recently opened the already-kosher for Pesach factory to The Jewish Link for a tour, and while we were certainly warned about the chancellor’s views on sausage-making, the experience in reality had nothing to do with Bismarck and everything to do with the quality A&H has stood for since it opened as a premium hot dog and provisions business in the Bronx in 1954.
Oscar Abeles, previously a partner in a fresh butchery business in Washington Heights, and his entrepreneurial nephew, Leopold Heymann, built the modest kosher hot dog and provisions company, which still makes pastrami, corned beef, salami, bologna and old-world classics including beef fry, kishka and cervelat. Leavitt, who bought the business together with David Flamholz from Heymann in 1997 10 years ago before becoming the sole owner, preserved the same methods used by the previous owners, and also added some modern “better for you” kosher products—including no nitrates added, reduced fat and sodium hot dogs, knockwurst and cocktail franks. The company, when Leavitt started, occupied a 2,500-square-foot facility in the Bronx, but outgrew that space in two years. The company now also private labels a number of specialty sausages and smoked meats, producing those items along with the classics in Hillside.
Leavitt comes from a family that knows the food business; his father worked in institutional accounts in the wholesale food business, and the younger Leavitt started out the same way, working from the bottom up and focusing on the quality of the product and using classic sausage-making methods. “Lee Heymann didn’t want to sell to just anyone; the nature and quality of the product was important to him. He held the note for us when we started out,” Leavitt said, noting that Heymann passed away in 2002, unfortunately before he was able to see A&H’s expansion in Hillside.
A&H products are glatt kosher and contain no fillers, which results in a better lean-to-fat ratio and a nicer bite. All products currently in stores are kosher for Passover as well. The leaner/reduced-fat products are made with 90 percent lean meat, with 33 percent less fat and 50 percent less sodium. “We use natural nitrites for curing, just celery powder and sea salt, and we don’t use spice extracts but actual spices,” said Leavitt. “If you use inferior ingredients, you get an inferior product,” he added.
The flavors of both the original all-beef hot dog and the reduced-fat/reduced-sodium hot dog are extremely similar, and both have the satisfying mouth feel of a real beef hot dog. “We know our products have a nicer bite, and they taste good; that is what we are known for,” said Leavitt. He added that people who shop for A&H products know their products costs a little more as well, but the quality is simply not comparable.
In fact, the fresh spices and meat were so evident that one could tell, in each room of the factory, exactly what was being prepared. In the room where spices were added to the freshly ground meat, the pungent scents of dried granulated garlic and onion, ground white pepper and sweet Hungarian paprika dominated, much like in a Jewish kitchen on erev Shabbat.
The U shape of the building was organized, Leavitt explained, to optimize production flow, so that deliveries of fresh ingredients are immediately checked by the mashgichim and processed; most of the rooms containing fresh products are emptied and refilled several times a day. The company cooks the equivalent of 500 pounds of hot dogs per hour during each active cooking cycle, and each preparation room, including the walls and floors, are completely sanitized between each of the multiple cooking cycles that take place in every 24-hour period, five days a week. Indeed, all visitors and staff wear protective clothing and hair nets, and walk through a sanitizing liquid on the floor to prevent any external contamination of the food products.
In the last year, A&H has also adopted a new technology, taught to them by Hod Golan in their Israeli partner manufacturing facility, known as Modified Atmosphere Packaging, or MAP.
It is a way of extending the shelf-life of fresh food products, explained Leavitt. “Typically, MAP increases the shelf-life of processed meats from between two and four days to two to five weeks. We are pleased to be using this cutting-edge technology to deliver the freshest products possible to consumers.”
A&H employs a team of three mashgichim, which includes Rabbi Avramel Kivelevitz, formerly of the kollel at IDT, who also shared that the factory staff work cleanly and efficiently, and they actively help ensure that each mashgiach has the access they need to all the rooms, ovens, machines, supplies, packaging labels and spices at all times, so they can do their jobs as efficiently and effectively as possible. “This is a very respectful, very well-run business,” Rabbi Kivelevitz told The Jewish Link. “The respect is modeled at the top and replicated by every employee here,” he added. He added that he was trained by Rabbi Shmuel Rubin, who works as A&H’s senior mashgiach and is the main liaison with the OU and other kashruth organizations, and opens the factory most mornings at 6:30 AM. The third mashgiach is Rabbi Chaim Klaughaf, who takes many of the afternoon and evening shifts, “who regularly stays past midnight, and supervises overnight cooking,” said Rabbi Kivelevitz.
Leavitt added that the markets where A&H products sell best are those frequented by gourmet kosher customers as well as gourmet customers who don’t necessarily keep kosher, but associate the word “kosher hot dog” with a higher quality product. The products also sell well in stadiums throughout the country. A&H products are available in Costco in Teterboro and 28 other Costcos in other states, as well as in over 40 BJ’s and in many national chain grocery stores that carry kosher products, including Acme, Stop & Shop and ShopRite. In addition, local kosher stores that serve the community stock the full line of A&H products. More products are available nationally in the pre-Pesach time frame and also in the summer months, as prime hot dog grilling season warms up.
By Elizabeth Kratz