From our family to yours

Jill Chucray – Co-Owner, J & J Czuchraj Meats–Cleveland, OH

Feature | Cleveland, OH | 05 April 2021
Jill Czucraj has worked at her family-run business, J&J Czuchraj, since she was 17 years old. She is now passing on the tradition to her daughter Amanda to ensure that the family business is part of the next generation’s DNA. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
Although her work can be arduous and time consuming, Jill proudly says, “I love my job!” Her familiarity and long-standing relationships with her customers make this very clear.

“You see that girl? I’ve known here since before she was born. I’ve known her family pretty much for the last 40 years and her mom has shopped here every Saturday since then,” Jill says with a wide smile

For 43 years Jill Chucray, one-half of J & J Czuchraj (pronounced Choo-cray) Meats, has worked in the family business of quality home-made smoked meats. Her husband Jerry’s parents, Jaroslav and Klara Czuchraj, who were both from Ukraine, started the business in 1954, at the historic West Side Market in Cleveland, Ohio. J&J Czuchraj Meats still operates from the same location today.

“I started at 17 and I’ve been doing this since before I was married. I married into the family, so now it’s in my blood,” Jill says, as the bustling soundtrack of vendors, and shoppers echoes throughout the long brick hallways, of the 109-year-old building.

J & J Czuchraj Meats has been located at the historic West Side Market for 67 years. The market is the oldest in Cleveland and has over 100 vendors selling dairy, meats, seafood, fruits, vegetables, and many more fresh produce items. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
Czuchraj Meats are known for their best in class products, using only the freshest quality natural and hormone free meats, that are seasoned with top blend spices, and smoked to perfection. They offer an assortment of over forty types of meats from kielbasa, smokies, jerky, sausages and many more customer favorites.

“Our specialty is our homemade sausages, and we’re really well known for our beef jerky, which we were on the Food Network for,” says Jill of the feature they received from Chef Michael Symon of the show The Best Thing I Ever Ate. She attributes the popularity of their meats to the fact that most of their stuff is homemade.

“Most of our products are homemade by my husband. He makes everything, he’s behind the scenes,” while Jill is the face of the business. Jill enjoys meeting, greeting and tending to customers and it has become a partnership that has worked well for the Czuchraj duo all these years.

Jill explains that traditional butcher shops are a “dying art” and many people cannot find butcher shops or specialty meat shops in their cities. “People come here, and they are like ‘Wow, I wish I had this in my city,’ and I am spoiled because I’ve had it my whole life,” she says. “I came here as a child. My mom and dad shopped here,” she fondly recalls, another affirmation that the work she does is indeed “in her blood.”

Like her, Jill’s two daughters also grew up coming to the West Side Market. “They would come and help me, and set up the stand,” she reflects, while also noting that she taught them the importance of a good work ethic from a young age. “I taught them at an early age that if they made a few bucks, I would match it to buy a car,” Jill says as a way to incentivize them to work. Jill’s work ethic is a part of who she is. “I worked three jobs right out of high school, seven days a week, when I was just 17,” and Jill said that this was important to pass on this same attitude to her kids.

In discussing the skills that have helped her succeed at her job, Jill says “reliability and dependability are at the top, followed by personality and attention to detail.”

“You can't just be behind the scenes,” Jill said reflecting on her long career running this family business. She says “you have to be a little more outgoing and for this business.”

Another critical skill for Jill is being able to work with money and manually “count change back to people, which nobody does anymore.” Jill is proud of this personal touch that connects her to the customers. “You have to have the drive and you have to want to succeed. This is an old-fashioned type business, and you're not going to click a button and make a thousand dollars.”

Jill and Amanda take great pride in building strong personal connections to their customers and consistently providing quality products. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
While she hasn’t needed much technology to succeed in her business so far, Jill is very cognizant of the need to be tech savvy for the business to continue to thrive in this digital age. Jill says she would like to learn more of that for herself, especially the use of social media.

As the Czuchraj meat shop graduates into its third generation with Jill’s two daughters, it’s apparent that it will continue to be very much a part of the family’s DNA. Her daughter Amanda now works at the store full time and is poised to take over the business.

“She’s doing a terrific job. She learned from the best,” says Jill with a chuckle. Jill is confident that by training and passing the torch to her daughter, J & J Czuchraj Meats will continue to maintain its award winning reputation of quality home-made smoked meats for generations to come.