Moo & Oink may have been saved from the chopping block as a last-minute buyer has emerged for the retail meat company.
The 30-year-old company with deep roots in the African-American community was set to be auctioned off Monday at the law office of Belongia, Shapiro & Franklin, 20 S. Clark St.
But the appearance of a potential buyer “indefinitely postponed” the auction as the buyer’s proposal is reviewed. The potential buyer’s name has not been revealed.
Bruce de’Medici, of Belongia Shapiro & Franklin, said they are in discussions with interested buyers and are waiting to see how those discussions develop. However, he added that all parties involved would like to see Moo & Oink continue.
De’Medici represents Silverman Consulting, a business turn-around management firm that was appointed to work on behalf of Moo & Oinks creditors.
The financially troubled company has been losing money since 2009. It lost $1 million that year and an additional $1.7 million in 2010. Through June 2011, the company lost another $713,000, according to an Aug. 2 letter sent to Moo & Oink creditors by Silverman Consulting. The letter stated that the company is seeking a buyer and would be liquidated if a buyer could not be found.
Moo & Oink operates three Chicago stores, including one in the Austin community as well as a specialty store in the south suburbs. The retail meat company dates back nearly 150 years when it was named Calumet Meats.
The company’s plight came as a disappointment to Barry Levy, a former owner of the storied grocery store that won several awards for its creative advertising spots.
“After creating the brand Moo & Oink and building close ties to the community for 33 years, it’s disappointing to see it wind up on the chopping block,” Levy told the Austin Weekly. “I left there five years ago, miss the camaraderie and feel sad for the community that ran the stores, gave me story lines, starred in our commercials and shopped with us.”
Former store manager Rev. Herbert Lee also hopes the Moo & Oink chain can continue with the right buyer. Lee worked for Moo & Oink for 28 years. He left the company six years ago to pastor full time.
Lee recalled that the company’s success grew out of providing good quality meats and superior customer service in a time when black shoppers were ignored by mainstream grocers. He noted many African Americans would often go to the North Side to buy prime meats, not realizing they could get it in their own backyards.
“At one time, the other meat markets in our community weren’t selling top quality meats,” said Lee, who pastors New Progressive Baptist Church on the city’s South Side. “What made us so successful was the quality we gave the people. Barry had a motto: ‘If I can’t take it home to my family, I’m not going to sell it.'”
Moo & Oink offered prime meats, such as porterhouse and T-bone steaks, and specialty items like smoked sweet meat, smoked pork neck bones, hot links and smoked rib tips. Lee noted the meat products sold in the store came from customers’ and employees’ suggestions.
Lee said these were foods Southern blacks grew up on but couldn’t find in the North. He said the prices allowed black shoppers to fill up their freezers.
“You had African-American ladies working there, and they knew what they were cooking for their families,” he said. “If we get what they wanted, then they are going to come here and shop.”
The store has always been a meat source for the African-American community even when the company first originated on 31st and Calumet, he added.
But the company did more than just provide food staples that reminded blacks of their down-South roots. It hired from the community, using local talents, like the late disc jockey Richard Pegue to pen jingles, but it also hired African Americans in management. Lee was the first manager of the Stony Island store when it opened in 1971, three years after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated.
“Since the business was 90 percent African-American, [Barry] didn’t have any problems putting African Americans in positions they were qualified to manage,” said Lee, who brought in the concepts of offering fresh oxtails and liver instead of the frozen variety at the Stony Island store. He added that Levy listened to black employees’ ideas.
Lee lamented the store’s fate. He raised his three daughters and sent them to college while working at Moo & Oink.
“It was more than just a company to us,” he said.