RACINE — Like their regular customers, the Miller family boys just keep coming back to the Sausage Kitchen.
The Sausage Kitchen, 1706 Rapids Drive, has been feeding north-side workers, neighbors, retirees and students since 1958. Situated a few blocks east of Horlick High School, the unpretentious combination sandwich shop, deli and grocery store has been a neighborhood fixture for almost six decades.
The current operators are Dave and Pat Miller. Dave is the son of the original owners, the late Ted and Lil Miller.
Originally the Sausage Kitchen had no seating area and was about half its present size. The family opened the eastern end in 1975, just as Ted was in the hospital, dying of cancer.
“He never saw the restaurant,” Dave said. However, the family did film the new section — which they originally called the House of Sandwiches — and showed it to Ted at the hospital.
The House of Sandwiches name for the 30-seat diner persisted until roughly 10 years ago, the Millers said, until they reunited both areas under the Sausage Kitchen name.
Lee’s Deli, 2615 Washington Ave., was a Sausage Kitchen offshoot. Its founder, Lee Neu, worked at Sausage Kitchen from the time he was “a kid” to about age 30, Dave said, then went off to start his own deli.
Neu’s departure was Dave’s cue. Unbidden by his father, Dave quit college during his second year and rejoined the family business, sliding into Neu’s spot as assistant manager.
Had he not, Dave said, “I think I was going to be a teacher.”
Not sounding very serious, he added, “Every June 10 I’m irritated that I didn’t do that, because I would probably have the summer off.”
The conclusion of Dave’s story about joining his father’s business involves his and Pat’s own son, Chris. “I never asked Chris to come in,” Dave said.
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But just as Dave had, during Chris’ second year of college, he answered the Sausage Kitchen’s siren call, quit college and joined the family business.
The Sausage Kitchen opens at 4:30 a.m. six days a week, every day but Monday, when it’s closed. “It’s only been about a year that we started closing on Mondays,” Pat said. On the other six days, Dave and Pat get up at 3 a.m. and arrive at the shop about 3:40 a.m.
The phone starts to ring about 4:10 a.m., Dave said: workers calling to place to-go breakfast orders.
Working people comprise the largest customer segment, the Millers said, followed by retired and neighborhood residents, then students.
In the 1980s, when Horlick High School had a completely open campus, students would nearly overwhelm the Sausage Kitchen at midday, the Millers said. “We would have kids lined up out the door, but adults would stay away,” Pat said.
Now that freshmen are kept in school for lunch, there’s a good customer mixture at lunchtimes at Sausage Kitchen. And Pat said the students are well-behaved.
“We haven’t had one problem with kids in years,” she said.
And Horlick is honored on the Sausage Kitchen’s straight-out-of-the-’50s menu with its own submarine sandwich, the Rebel.
The Millers clearly enjoy their interactions and familiarity with their customers — some of them now representing a third generation during the Millers’ time.
“That’s why I think we enjoy our jobs so much: We get to know the people,” Pat said.
“If I retire, I think that’s what I would miss.”
“That’s why I think we enjoy our jobs so much: We get to know the people.”
— Sausage Kitchen co-owner Pat Miller