Stephen’s Meat – History into a Parking Lot

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By Jonathan Haeber

Stephens Meat Products
The front wall of Stephens Meat Products in San Jose, California. This building no longer exists.

There was a time in our history in which a cut of meat, or links of sausage didn’t come from a chain supermarket. Meat wasn’t transported pre-cut, across the country, via refrigerated trains. There was a local butcher. He knew you personally, and likely had an order made especially for you, every week.

Stephen's Meat, San Jose

Stephens Meat Products is now a parking lot next to San Jose’s central train station. Those who happened to pass by when the building existed, and who were not regular customers of Stephens, would immediately be struck by the neon sign above the parapet and a 1950s-era sign depicting an illuminated pig (one which was animated, mind you).

The building was constructed in 1948, but the business itself dates as far back as the Depression Era. During World War II, meat was hard to come by, but Stephen Pizzo was able to find an uncle with a beef ranch in the hills. When times began to change, and the packaged meat industry was dawning, Pizzo was visionary enough to purchase the first vacuum-pack lunch meat wrapper West of the Missouri. “They said he was crazy,” said Bob Morrison, Pizzo’s son-in-law.

Stephens Packing Historic Image
Eventually, Pizzo’s meat products company was fighting an uphill battle. The big guys were controlling every aspect of the meat processing industry — vertical integration is what it’s generally referred as — and Stephen’s couldn’t compete with rancher cooperatives out East, who were controlling every stage of the production. These companies became the Oscar Mayers, Armour, and Swifts of today.

Morrison, who took over the business from his father-in-law, focused on quality to keep afloat — and it worked for years. He scoffs at the sausage made by the “big guys.”

“Beef Broth,” he said in a disgusted manner, “That’s what plumps ‘em. I shudder to think where that broth comes from. We don’t need that. And our franks out-plump ‘em all,” pausing for a moment. Then he picked up a package of chorizo sausage from his ‘corporate’ competitor, “Go ahead. Read the ingredients,” pointing out the list, which included salivary glands, lymph nodes, and tongue trimmings. “It doesn’t excite me seeing that on a sausage label.”

Stephens Parapet Facade Neon

Stephen's Meat Historic Facade Image
By the turn of the century, though, Stephen’s Meat Products was closing down. After 63 years of providing links and dogs to ballparks, cafeterias, and supermarkets the company just couldn’t compete. In its final years, it focused on its strong suit — something the conglomerates had difficulty matching in quality — sausage.

“In the meat business, sausage making is the top of the line,” Morrison explains. “Anybody can kill, but making sausage come out the same every time? It’s an art.”

27 comments on “Stephen’s Meat – History into a Parking Lot

  1. Mike Paahana on said:

    anybody cumming 2 hawaii should hook up with me and suck on big mike’s meat

  2. Faith Hunter on said:

    As a life long resident of San Jose, I greatly appreciated seeing these great photos and reading your commentary.

  3. Jonathan Haeber on said:

    Thanks Faith. It was sad to see this place go, and it was a wonderful experience to see it before it did.

  4. Sue Larson on said:

    Thanks for having this info. Any “hot” leads to good sausage? Hubby wants real HOT links and having trouble finding. We use to get Stephen’s – now it’s a challenge! Great info and history. Thank you.

  5. Ernest Mathis on said:

    I grow up on the meat from this place my dad went there every week up unitl he died i remember they would call him and tell him that his order was ready i remember the 1st time i went with him i thought it was a old place. until i got older and started buying my meat from them as well because the store meat did not even compare at all to it. I moved away from san jose but i would still drive from sacramento to san jose to get my meat from them it was that good i hated it when they closed there doors but i was told i could get there meat still from a local butcher but now he does not carry it does anyone know where i can get the meat if i still can.

  6. STEPHEN’S LINKS are the best ever. Being stationed at Travis AFB, Ca…those links and hamhocks were in our Air Force commisssarys. They were so good after moving here to Dallas, Tx I stilled ordered them via FedEX. I’ve been sick and NOW they’re gone. What’s next sliced bread….Please tell me where I can get some of those links. ASAP for the holidays

  7. Harry Feuerherm on said:

    When we were living in Morgan Hill, I would take the hike up to San Jose and get enough to load my freezer. There was NONE better!
    Great pictures, thank you.
    Does anyone have a lead on good sausage.
    Out here in Arkansas, we have two kinds of cookin’, fried and Bar-B-Q.

  8. Joe Dolley on said:

    Stephen’s Hot Links (Beef and pork) can be purchased from Willow Glen Meats in San Jose. I must warn you however, they’ve gotten very pricey. I was quoted $47.50 for a case last week. Price increase justification (s)- (1) Cost of fuel (2) Casing price went up. (3) Because they can. Haven’t paid that price “yet” but, a couple of my friends which I introduced the Links too, are seriously considering paying the $47.50

  9. One piece of good news is that the neon sign still exists, and is actually still illuminated from time to time. I can’t substantiate it, but I read somewhere that San Jose has instated a sign preservation policy, and now requires the historically significant “googy” signs must be preserved when buildings are demolished.

  10. GEORGE CAGER on said:

    I LOVE YOUR HOT LINKS. I ALSO HAVE A FRIEND THAT MOVED TO JACKSON MISS. HE WOULD LIKE ME TO SHIP YOUR LINKS TO HIM.
    HE SAYS THERE IS NO LINKS IN THE SOUTH COMPARED TO YOURS. THE ONLY PLACE WE KNOW TO PURCHASE YOUR LINKS IS TRAVIS AFB COMMISSARY. I WOULD APPRECIATE IT VERY MUCH IF YOU WOULD GIVE ME INFORMATION ON HOW I CAN ORDER YOUR LINKS AND SHIP THEM TO HIM. SINCERELY YOURS, GEORGE N CAGER JR.
    254 STEPHEN ST
    FAIRFIELD CA 94533
    707-428-6337

    BIGG300@COMCAST.NET

  11. Jan Talesfore on said:

    Stephens hot dogs were the very best, I used to get cases of them in the good old days in San Jose. I am a hot dog lover and don’t think I will ever find any to compare with Stephens. If only I could!

  12. jerry newton on said:

    I JUST GOT OFF THE TELEPHONE WITH GILDA KABBANI FROM GILDAS BIG APPLE HOT DOGS AND SHE WAS INQUIRING OF ME ABOUT STEPHENS MEATS AND YOUR WONDERFUL ALL BEEF HOT LINKS AND THE 1/6 POUND ALL BEEF HOT DOGS AND WAS WONDERING IF YOU COULD CONTACT HER TO SUPPLY HER WITH SOME OF YOUR FAMOUS PRODUCTS. GILDA KABBANI 206-399-4659, SHE IS DOING SOME CATERING AND COOKING. THANK YOU JERRY NEWTON 209-535-5783

  13. Can I still get Stephan’s sausages? They had the best Hot Links!

  14. J Doyle on said:

    I just bought a package of Stephens Link Pork Sausage at the Moffett Field commissary. The package has 12 old fashioned links in natural castings and the label has the 3 Pigs logo with a quality check mark.

    The bottom of the label says – Distributed by Stephens Meat Products San Jose CA 95110

    Looks like their back in business!

    PS The sausages are really tasty!

  15. R Green on said:

    I believe that the recipes and name were bought by Silva Sausage, I’m not positive about that though… anyone know for sure?

  16. Mike Smith on said:

    I have a Stephen’s Meat Products pocket knife and I am interested in selling it. I am contacting you before putting it on eBay to give some a first chance.
    Mike

  17. Sue Gardner on said:

    I heard that you can still get the hotdogs at some place called byson farms? But I can’t find it…. any help would be greatly appreciated. My grandson plays baseball @ cambrian park and they have these hotdogs at the field… would love to get me some!

  18. Megan Money on said:

    In the morning on the way to college I remember the building that once reminded me of San Jose, CA at a different time period. Although they paved paradise and put up a parking lot I somehow hope that one morning I would awaken and find the building still in place.

  19. Jeffrey Bass on said:

    While visiting my dad in San Jose in December 2007, I photographed the neon pig sign with property surrounded with chain-link fencing. You can see the photo online at flickr.com

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffreybass/5861942183/lightbox/

  20. Steven on said:

    As mentioned above (#8), you can still buy cases of Stephens old fashioned at Willow Glen meats. You can also buy it at Santos Market in Japantown. If you’re just looking for a taste of Stephens and you don’t want to buy pounds of it… go to The Happy Hound in Los Gatos. They use Stephens as their “default” dog.

  21. Dan Bassian on said:

    I am humored to see all the interest in Stephen’s Meat Products. Yes my family business purchased the Stephens Meat Company in 2005. You can Still buy all of the Stephens Products at Willow Glen Meats (885 Delmas Ave, San Jose, not far from the original Stephens Plant)Phone 408-279-4009. Also most items are still avialable at the Norther California Military Commissaries. To buy them individually, Check with your local Home Depo Hot Dog Vendor. Most in the County are Stephens customers. Also Marks Hot Dogs at 48 S. Capital Ave in San Jose. Happy Hound in L.G. is no longer a customer, however.

  22. Great background on this unique San Jose location. Moved here recently and placed a geocache next to the unique vintage neon sign. I referenced this history page (see website link) so that visitors can read more about the history of the business that once stood in this parking lot. Thanks for writing up this little blog post! :-)

  23. Arlie Ray on said:

    It is sad to see that Stephen’s Meat is gone. I will stop in at Willow Glen Meats on Delmas to acquire their sausage or hot dog products. Places like Stephen’s made America work.

  24. i have there dogs on my hotdog cart in sacramento i use to sell them when i was 13 in san jose at a cart at the court house.

    i do parties 209-735-0058

  25. dawgnit.com

  26. virginia on said:

    We miss Stephens Hot Dogs & polish Dogs they were great! We use to get them at Nob Hill Stores or would drive to San Jose to purchase directly. So sorry you are gone. All the Good old places are eatten up by the Big Companys. Was told of another place selling hot dogs like Stephens does any one know where?

  27. Jewells Solarez on said:

    Willow Glen Meats on Delmas Ave, San Jose has the hot dogs and links. These are the best hot dogs!!

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