The worn-in butcher blocks are the first thing you notice when you walk through the doors. There are four of them behind the counter, and they’re all at least 50 years old. To avoid warping and cracking from moisture, Rudolph’s cleans and hand-scrapes the blocks several times a day, which is why each board has a smooth, concave groove in the center. The block nearest to the door is about 90 years old.
“I think we’re going to have a changing of the guards here soon,” says Brandon Andreason, grandson and co-owner of the family-run butcher shop, a wry smile on his face. The 90-year-old butcher’s block might just have a ceremonious end before they set it out to pasture, he says, perhaps even starring in a YouTube video documenting its final days. Andreason says he can’t remember the last time a new board was brought in.
And so it goes at the 122-year-old Rudolph’s Market and Sausage Factory in Deep Ellum. Andreason’s grandfather Cyrill “Sid” Pokladnik immigrated to America (Minnesota, to be specific) from Czechoslovakia and relocated to Dallas’ Czech community in the ’20s. Pokladnik started working at Rudolph’s in 1927.
“He started working for his uncle at the time,” Andreason says. “He put him to work down here. I’m sure [Sid] didn’t like it at first, but then he realized: Hey, this is not a bad gig. At least you get to eat every night.”
Sid Pokladnik’s uncle, Anton Pavelka, had bought the shop from Martin Rudolph, who had immigrated from Austria. When Pavelka retired in 1947, he passed the torch to Andreason’s grandfather.
Following tradition, Brandon has been working at Rudolph’s since he was 15. Jessie Mendoza, who’s been there for 39 years, and Tony Ruiz, a 22-year veteran, also work behind the counter. Rudolph’s runs like clockwork — everyone arrives around 7:30 a.m., they take inventory and then they get to work. They chop beef, twist sausages and cut steaks clean by hand. Sausages are smoked with hickory wood chips.
The smoked sausage, hot links and classic footlong hot dogs are can’t-miss items at Rudolph’s. Get some Empire Bakery hot dog rolls and you’ve got a killer Dallas meal. Tony Ruiz suggests boiling the links for eight minutes, or better yet, tossing them on the grill.
This is why Rudolph’s continues to survive — they have the casual confidence of a century-old business. Rudolph’s has let the trends of time — more specifically, the wild changes to Deep Ellum’s landscape — ricochet off like a bullet. When I ask what goes into their pork sausage, Andreason responds: “Pork.”
“There’s no tricks to it,” he says. There are seasonings, of course, like coriander and caraway seed, and curing salts, but that’s not the point. The butcher blocks are the perfect image to illustrate the point: Long-worn with time, smoothed by hand, but wholly unchanged. That’s the heart of Rudolph’s.
It’s hard not to worry about the future of an old-fashioned business like this one in a city that seems so fixated on the new and now. Rudolph’s has been open so long, and the neighborhood has gone through so much change, it seems natural to worry. And yet, times don’t seem to be tough for Rudolph’s. Foot traffic has increased, Andreason says, and his shoppers are generations-old and growing.
“No complaints,” he says succinctly when I ask how business is going. “If anything, it’s more beneficial to us than it’s ever been.
“There won’t be any changes,” he says, leaning back in his chair. “If it’s not broke ... we stick to what we know.”
Rudolph’s Meat Market and Sausage Factory, 2924 Elm St.