Home » Recommended: Salvatore Sendik, Of Downer Avenue Sendik’s Grocery Store, Dies At 84

Recommended: Salvatore Sendik, Of Downer Avenue Sendik’s Grocery Store, Dies At 84

Salvatore Sendik
Salvatore Sendik poses for a picture in the produce section of Sendik's/Piggly Wiggly, 2315 N. 124th St. in Brookfield. Sendik, 82 here, visited the store twice a day to chat with customers and check on the fruits and vegetables. (Photo: Courtesy of John Sendik)

Last updated on June 26th, 2024 at 04:11 pm

Salvatore Sendik had picture-perfect produce.

He knew people bought food with their eyes, so he ran the Downer Avenue Sendik’s grocery store with a focus on presentation, his family said: vegetables on beds of ice, shiny fruits without blemishes.

Sendik, whose independent Milwaukee market became known for quality foodstuffs amid chain stores’ growth, died Thursday at 84.

“He had a tremendous amount of pride in what he did,” his son, John Sendik, said. “He stressed that we showed quality all the time.”

Sal Sendik’s father, Tony, was part of the original Sicilian-immigrant Balistreri family that got its start selling fruits and vegetables by pushcart in the 1920s. Today, three branches of the family operate separate Sendik’s entities. Sal Sendik’s cousins run the chain with the well-known red bags.

Before selling two stores late in life, Sendik and his sons owned the east side Sendik’s, 2643 N. Downer Ave.; one in Bayside, 340 W. Brown Deer Road; and a Sendik’s/Piggly Wiggly at 2315 N. 124th St. in Brookfield, which remains in the family’s hands.

Family legend says that Sal’s grandfather, speaking with an accent, was trying to purchase a stove and asked a clerk to “send it.” Delivery crews arrived asking for “Mr. Sendik,” and the name stuck. Sal’s father, Tony, legally changed his last name to Sendik, and the two worked hard to carry on their family’s legacy of excellent produce.

“He grew that Downer store into being an incredible operation,” John Sendik said.

“The training, the work ethic that we’ve been taught, that’s what made it last this long,” Sal Sendik told the The Journal in 1988.

Displaying produce on ice is “incredibly labor-intensive,” John Sendik said, but his father didn’t care — it was all about presenting the best products to customers, he said.

Sendik presided over a neighborhood grocery store during a time of rapidly changing trends. He came from an era when many people cooked meals from scratch, his son said, and he always felt that home cooks wanted to hold the ingredients in their hands to inspect the quality.

Over time, bags of shredded lettuce became more popular than heads of romaine, people bought more pre-made items and food delivery services gained popularity.

Sal Sendik kept up by being different, offering items no other grocer in the city had. Sometimes customers would even bring him labels of tasty foods they’d tried. Find this and stock it at Sendik’s, they’d say…

See more at jsonline.com…

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