Uncle Louie’s Sausages

The man behind the "ono-est," Made in Maui sausages is Ken Enriques, trade name: Uncle Louie. "Can you imagine Uncle Ken’s Portuguese Sausage?" he asks. "No. But Uncle Louie is good for that and for the fresh Italian sausages too." Pure and simple, a practicality, just what you’d expect from Enriques who, with his wife Lynne, started the company in 1991. Since then, they’ve built the Uncle Louie brand up to the point of producing about 50 thousand pounds of sausages a month on one foundation: Quality!

There’s no outside salesperson. There are no flashy ads or catchy slogans. There’s just the product and it sells itself from Las Vegas to Honolulu and all over Maui.

When you step inside the retail shop at Uncle Louie’s Sausage Company on Alamaha, the first thing you notice is how remarkably small it is. There’s probably about as much space in the refrigerators as in the store itself. Then, if you’ve been around meat-processing places before, you realize there’s something missing. There’s no foul odor of raw meat, none of the grimy coating that you expect to signify butchering and meat cutting. That’s because, right up there with practicality, maybe even more highly prized by the Enriques family, is the other guiding principle: Sanitation. "Control of possible pathogens," Enriques says, "that’s the important thing."

Moving from one efficiently squeezed together room to the next—none of them ever permitted to warm up beyond 50 degrees—you step in sanitizing shoe washes. People are wearing head-covers and cotton jackets that tell whether they are touching raw meat or processed products. The air is cleaned. Every surface gleams and shines. "Here is the record," Enriques says, proudly showing off the checklist on which an after-hours cleaning crew has certified more than 30 checkpoints to be antiseptic. "And then this the next day," he says, showing the sheet where the arriving staff has again tested every site and surface for pathogens. "If there’s something on the morning list," he says, "then this guy (indicating the night crew list) is in trouble."

That obsessive dedication to cleanliness is vital, of course, and it is guaranteed by the fact that Uncle Louie’s has a USDA inspector on site too. The inspector has some responsibilities at other Maui addresses, but his desk is at Uncle Louie’s and his attention often is too.

Since 95% of Uncle Louie’s products are sold to food service distributors, the pros among the customers compose an additional layer of watchdogs, and Enriques wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s glad that Old Lahaina Luau, Embassy Suites, Jack’s, L & L Drive-In in Wailuku and the Golden Nugget in Nevada, to mention just a few, have come to completely trust his products. Of course, clean is not the same thing as delicious, and he has to hit that mark every time too. He does. No problem.

Even though they have to do it in rooms 50º or colder, wrapped in caps and gowns, the 15 employees at Uncle Louie’s understand that making every product consistent and tasty, and doing it under absolutely sterile conditions, is the whole game. So, from room to room, from job to job, they’re at it. There’s no room or time for horsing around, but no one is scowling either. You can tell they’re really proud of the work they do.

A major portion of Uncle Louie’s output goes to the big hotels in Waikiki, and it’s not all sausages. There are several other food service products like pre-sliced teri-beef and ground meats which, although they are not in the retail refrigerator, can be ordered by anyone for, say, a family luau. And, chances are pretty good that even if you’ve been eating and loving his sausages for years, there are some varieties you’ve never tired: How about the hot dogs, pipi kaula, pineapple sausages or ones made with Maui onions or mac nuts? Of course, the first thing we think of when we hear "Uncle Louie’s" is Portuguese sausage, and that’s still the one product you just don’t want to be without, but special occasions call for special flavors, no? You’ll find what you’re looking for at Costco, Wal Mart, Ooka’s, Star and Foodland, or in the shop at the plant.

Sam Choy actually specifies Uncle Louie’s Portuguese Sausage in one of his turkey stuffing recipes, and it does make a difference. Some restaurants that have been lucky enough to find Uncle Louie’s products put his name (Louie, not Ken) right on the menu. Even at home, Maui people often say "Uncle Louie’s Portuguese sausage," not just "Portuguese Sausage."

The products and the unrivaled reputation are both Made in Maui successes.

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