After nearly 70 years, Cottam butcher shop changing hands

COTTAM — John Ivanisko has sold his butcher shop in Cottam but he has no intention of hanging up his apron or retiring his knives, cleavers and saws.

He said selling Cottam Cold Storage and Meat Market, a business his father founded nearly 70 years ago, was a tough, emotional call.

Ivanisko, 66, said the sale was made easier because the new owners — the Zaccagninis — are a family from Cottam. The Zaccagninis also operate their own family-run butcher shop in Windsor.

“It’s sad, but I’ll still be coming in here to help through the transition and everything. I’ll be making their fresh sausages on site,” he said. “If they need help, I’ll give them a hand.”

Cottam Cold Storage and Meat Market was founded in 1954 by Ivanisko’s father, John Sr., and it grew, prospered and thrived with no advertising, no promotion — just word of mouth.

Ivanisko’s father came to Windsor-Essex County from Czechoslovakia with his family as a child in the early 1930s. He started out as a delivery boy for a Windsor butcher who later hired him to learn the trade as his apprentice.

John Sr. later opened his own butcher shop in Windsor and in 1954 the business expanded to Cottam.

The Cottam butcher shop is well-known across Windsor and Essex County and even neighbouring Chatham-Kent. It has a central location and a product — kielbasa sausages — that brings in a steady stream of faithful customers.

The sausage recipe was created by Ivanisko’s father, slightly tweaked by Ivanisko, and remains a family secret. Ivanisko, who contracts out the making of his kielbasa to a fine-meats supplier, will retain that portion of the business and continue to supply local retail customers.

But the butcher shop is more than kielbasa. Ivanisko said the commitment to good service and high quality meat products is a big part of the success story of Cottam Cold Storage and Meats.

“We just keep to the basics. We offered good customer service and good-quality meats,” the father of three said.

“We don’t buy any junk, it’s all Double-A, Triple-A meat, all Grade-A stuff. We built a reputation over the years. We never advertised. It was all word of mouth, which is the best advertising you can get.”

Ivanisko’s wife, Michelle, was involved in the business, but retired last September.

“She was here for 20 years … she just physically couldn’t do the work anymore, so we had to put her out to pasture. Now she takes care of the grandkids.”

One Ivanisko customer, Phil Schiefer, came to the butcher shop earlier this week to pick up packages of German bratwurst that Ivanisko custom makes for him using Schiefer’s own blend of spices.

Dan and Madison Zaccagnini

“It’s family-run,” he said, explaining why he shops at the store. “They’re very likeable, personable people. I’d rather support local rather than big corporations.”

Madison Zaccagnini said she and her father, Dan, will continue making specialized orders for customers like Schiefer.

“We’re not changing anything — same products, same quality, same familiar faces. We’re keeping all the employees …,” she said.

The Zaccagninis own Zaccagnini Meats at the Market Square on Ottawa Street near Walker Road.

“The nice thing is they are a family-run business and we’re a family-run business,” said Zaccagnini. “We have similar values and work ethic.”

To help with the transition, Madison has worked four weeks with Ivanisko to learn his style of preparing meats and, most importantly, meeting his customers.

“We call out to everybody,” said Ivanisko. “We have a perfect new, young family coming in. The only thing it’s going to be a younger, prettier face than mine.”

Dan Zaccagniini, 56, said he will be “in and out” of the Cottam butcher shop — “we’re five minutes away” — but stressed it will be his 21-year-old daughter who will be running the business as the full-time butcher.

“I’m very thankful for what our dad taught us,” said Madison. “It’s not a female-dominant trade; for customers … it’s interesting to see a woman behind the block.”

Madison’s sister, Olivia, also works with their father in Windsor.

Ivanisko said his slow, steady, no-rush approach to practising his trade is the main reason he has survived all these years as a butcher with his fingers and thumbs still intact.

He’ll need those fingers because he plans to play more golf in retirement.

“I don’t know if I’ll get any better. They say the more you practise, the better you get. I just enjoy going out, having a couple of beers and shooting a round of golf.”