Mundelein man’s gourmet sausage sold across the country
By Long Hwa-shu For Sun-Times Media September 6, 2013 5:38PM
Hunter sausages being prepared at Alefs Sausage factory in Mundelein.| Tina Johansson/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 8, 2013 6:08AM
It’s no baloney that once you’ve tried Arbatskaya, a pork and egg sausage, you’ll ask for more.
Then, there’s Basturma salami made with cognac — chewy and great with wine, cheese and crackers. You can’t get these Old World gourmet sausages at your regular grocery stores. They are made in Mundelein by Alec Mikhaylov, founder and owner of Alef Sausage Inc.
Mikhaylov, an immigrant from Ukraine, makes as many as 40 different kinds of Russian and eastern European-style sausages at a 36,000-square-foot plant where he employs 18 sausage makers he personally trained.
“Everything is natural, nothing is artificial,” said the 63-year-old, wearing a light blue lab coat as he conducted a tour for The News-Sun in his sprawling factory where meats were ground, mixed, the casings filled and then the sausages carried to a room to dry.
“We use only the freshest meats and ingredients and never add fillers,” he stressed.
In one room, links of salami nearly five inches in diameter were packaged on an assembly line and then boxed, ready to be shipped out.
“I created it myself,” he said as he gave a sweeping look at his spic-and-span plant, obviously proud of his achievements in the adopted land.
Mikhaylov came to America from Ukraine, known as the “the bread basket” of the former Soviet Union, in 1992. He chose Chicago because he had a brother already living there. Ukraine is now an independent country.
He worked in construction as an engineer as he did back home. He later delivered pizza and then became a manager of a pizzeria in Wilmette. All the while, he wanted to start his own business and realize the American dream. While brain-storming on what to do, he found himself missing and craving the sausages he grew up with.
“I loved to cook as a child, but I learned sausage-making here myself, step by step, based on traditional recipes,” he said, adding, “My sausages are different, but better.”
He and his wife, Lyubov, whom she married in Ukraine, experimented with sausage-making in the basement of their home in Rogers Park on Chicago’s north side back in 1993. They later moved the operation to a building at 356 Townline Road in Mundelein and opened a delicatessen. In addition to sausages, it offers appetizers and a variety of soups including borscht with mushrooms, beet borscht, borscht with farina and pickled cucumber.
As business grew, the Mikhaylovs opened the modern 36,000-square-foot plant in 2005, which cost an estimated $5 million. Currently, the plant makes 30,000 pounds of sausages a day. As a family business, Mikhaylov’s wife is the vice president. Their daughter Marina and her husband, Igor Shwartsman, both work in the business with Igor as general manager.
Their products are sold across the country in 30 states and Canada through distributors. Last year, the private company made $9 million. Mikhaylov predicted a conservative 9 percent growth this year.
But there appears to be a hot demand for their unique products, judging by the busy traffic at the store.