From changing market forces, to waning interest, a family business can face challenges on all fronts. WNPR’s J Holt brings us the story of a New Britain family that has kept their company moving forward with a balance of tradition and flexibility, and now has their fourth generation engaged in the business of making meats.
About 20 years ago, Joe Perez and some friends went to see former New Britain Red Sock Ellis Burks play at Yankee stadium. Every time he came by their seats they’d shout,
Joe Perez- “Ellis, c’mon man we’re from New Britain you know, c’mon throw the ball to us.’ He says, ‘You guys from New Britain?’ He says ‘prove it!’ And so Ronnie Jakabowski says ‘Capitol Lunch Hot Dogs!’ And Ellis took the ball and he threw it right up to us. That’s a true story!”
Capitol Lunch is as much a New Britain institution today, thanks in large part to the popularity of their Cappy Dogs, which current owner Gus Ververis serves up exactly the way its been done since long before his father in-law joined the business in the 50’s.
Gus Ververis- “The signature is the mustard, onions and our famous sauce, which is a meat sauce, almost like a sloppy joe, but not as spicy as a sloppy joe.”
But Ververis knows the famous sauce isn’t the only ingredient his customers return for over generations. They come for the dog itself, which has been made to the same recipe by Martin Rosol’s, Inc. since capitol lunch opened its doors in 1929.
Gus Ververis- “From what I hear from customers there’s a snap to it, and that’s pretty much what they like about it. So we’re kinda joined to the hip, Rosol’s and Capitol lunch, and as long as they’re in business we’ll be using Rosol’s.”
Martin Rosol’s opened a year before capitol lunch, and it quickly established deep roots in the New Britain community. Joe Perez and his friends joke that they had their first kielbasas from Rosol’s 60 years ago when their mothers put some in their cribs. Rosol’s moved into it’s current home in 1938. It’s just four short blocks away from Capitol Lunch, and even closer to Broad St., the heart of new Britain’s Little Poland.
Ben Rosol- “We make Luncheon loaf, Kelley dogs, we make pashtatova, and this is cabanosi, pretty much its just dried kielbasa. This is fantastic.”
That’s Benjamin Rosol, one of the plant managers, and a great grandson of Martin Rosol. His cousin Tim is the other plant manager, his mother is the vice president, and his uncle Bob Rosol is the president of the company.
Bob Rosol- “I’ve officially been here for 30 years, but I’ve actually been here 35. My dad would bring me in when I was 15 to work summers.”
Yet despite being brought in to work those summers, there was no expectation for him to actually join the business.
Bob Rosol- “My dad kind of discouraged me, but I wanted to get involved. So I went to college, got a bachelor of Science in business administration, and after that I just came to work.
Bob Rosol has seen a lot of changes over his years with the company. Martin Rosol’s used to sell their products right off a fleet of small delivery trucks, primarily to “mom & pop” convenience stores.
Bob- “Even on broadstreet here in new britain there would be one on almost every corner. Now that’s kind of a thing of the past.”
Fortunately for the company, the loss of mom & pop business happened gradually, and Martin Rosol’s was able to shift its focus to taking orders from large supermarkets state wide, such as Stew Leonard’s. And while the retail store does less business than the days when 3000 people worked at the Fafnir Stanley Works nearby, they still have devoted customers. It is not uncommon for people to wait in line for over two hours at Easter time in order to get the products they want. Martin Rosol’s still uses the same Recipes it began with in the 1920s, and Bob Rosol believes that customers appreciate that consistency.
There was no expectation for the fourth generation to step into the business, but both Tim and Ben Rosol always had thoughts that they’d like to join in the family tradition. Since starting full time three and a half years ago, Ben Rosol has discovered that sense of family is much broader than he’d realized.
Ben Rosol- “ The most amazing thing I think is the sense of community with the Polish guys here. You kind of take that for granted when you’re younger, you know, this is just a summer job. You don’t really have the camaraderie with the people you work with. So it’s like ‘That’s just the guy that works in the kitchen’ when you’re younger. Then it becomes ‘That’s the guy who has a family he’s supporting in Poland.’ ‘That’s the guy who,’ you know, ‘I grew up with his children.’”
Ben Rosol- “This is Henry. He’s one of those honorary members of the family he’s been here so long. How many years now?”
Henry- “Gotta be like around 43, to give it a wild guess.”
Ben- “So that’s one of the nice things of this being a small business and a family business, is guys like Henry, I’ve known Henry since I was born! Some of the other guys in the kitchen as well have been here so long that you consider them a family member even though they may not be a Rosol.”
Henry- “And If I may add, they treat me like family.”
With the decades of tradition behind them, Ben Rosol thinks the business as it exists now, with statewide deliveries and their onsite market, is pretty well established. But they have their eyes on the future, and Tim Rosol opened an online store in March. They’ve already sold to 30 states.