Many mourn the sudden passing of famed sausage maker
BY PAULA NEUMAN
Joseph Chontos — better known as “Kielbasa Joe” — died unexpectedly Sunday, March 8. He was 79.
In 1978, Mr. Chontos opened a little meat market at the corner of Oak and Twelfth Streets in Wyandotte, and the family business — called Kielbasa Joe’s — has been there ever since. His family members said the store will stay open despite the loss of its founder and top sausage maker.
Kielbasa Joe’s customers took to social media to share their sadness at his passing, and to praise his shop and especially the more than 30 types of sausage, both fresh and smoked, that Mr. Chontos made himself and sold.
“I used to stop in and get kielbasa to go when I came home from Virginia,” wrote U.S. Marines Sgt. Calvin Lucado on the Molnar Funeral Home’s website, where friends and loved ones are invited to share memories and write tributes to someone who has passed. “Joe was a legend, and provided Wyandotte with some of the best meats around. He was a great man and an outstanding member of the Wyandotte community.”
Donna Koszewski of Wyandotte posted this on Facebook: “Sorry to hear of his passing. Hope the recipes have stayed with the family and that this treasure of a store does not close up.”
Mr. Chontos’ decades of sausage making and friendly, personal service at the shop have earned the store a 5-star rating on Yelp, and also led to a TV feature about him last year on Detroit’s channel 7 WXYZ-TV. The station re-posted the spot online recently as a tribute after learning of his death.
Near Christmas and Easter, the store’s busiest times, customers come from all over to buy sausage for their holiday festivities.
“My family and I made it a tradition to get our holiday food from Joe,” wrote Ashley Shepherd on the Molnar website. “He made the best kielbasa by far.”
Patricia Izzo of Wyandotte posted this on Facebook: “During the holidays, I would go into his store and leave hearing a happy, hearty sto lat (a Polish expression of cheer and long life) wish for a good holiday.”
Mr. Chontos learned his trade as a kid growing up in Detroit’s DelRay neighborhood.
“He had told me a couple of times that there were a lot of meat markets in DelRay, and that he worked in a lot of them,” said his daughter, Kimberly Gabriel of Wyandotte.
Mr. Chontos, who was a resident of Monroe County at the time of his death, often stayed at his daughter’s house when he worked late hours at the store, said his ex-wife and good friend Pam Chontos of Woodhaven.
“His dad had an upholstery shop next to a funeral home in DelRay,” she said. “His mother used to make his clothes out of upholstery material. They were poor. He had three brothers and a sister. He was the second-youngest.”
Mr. Chontos left school as a teenager to go to work, she said, and did a stint with the U.S. Merchant Marine. Then he worked for a trucking company until he decided to open Kielbasa Joe’s.
“He wanted to go into business for himself,” Pam Chontos said. “He was hardly ever home, always working, but he liked it. He got compliments every day of the week. He was proud of what he did. I think that kept him going. That store was pretty much his life. He really hadn’t considered retirement.”
His family posted on the store’s Facebook page that Mr. Chontos “poured his heart and soul into this store and business. He loved this store more than anything. He worked every single day he was able to … even in the middle of the night to start the sausage in the smoker to be ready for customers when the doors opened … We will continue to make the same great meats you are used to and love … Joe loved his customers very much and we thank you all so much for your business.”
Mr. Chontos’ children and grandchildren all have worked in the store, and a young great-granddaughter also helped out over the holidays. He is survived by his children Tim, Kimberly Gabriel and Joseph, step-son Derek Chontos; five grandchildren and four step-grandchildren; great-grandchildren; and by brother Frank Chontos.
Mr. Chontos’ death is “a big loss to the community,” said Scott Galeski of Wyandotte. “He was a legend.”