Stacie Schonwetter-Waters & Steve Schonwetter
Tell us about your business.In New York's Capital Region, Bilinski's brand and jingle are immediately recognizable. Started in 1929, Bilinski's sold traditional sausage, kielbasa and hot dogs until the Schonwetter family revolutionized the company in 1989 with the invention of chicken sausage. The new products were Steve Schonwetter's reaction to his father's heart disease, when he realized many of Bilinski's products of that era were unhealthy. Bilinski's is still a locally-based, family-owned business in Cohoes, NY run by Steve and his daughter Stacie, but the popularity of their products has allowed them to expand to supermarkets nationwide. Steve and Stacie work together to invent new flavors of chicken sausage, all of which are casing-free, fully cooked, and free of nitrates, gluten, preservatives, antibiotics, by-products, and hormones. The brand just began producing chicken meatballs and is hoping to expand into new markets in the Northeast in the coming year by continuing to create healthy products.
What makes your business stand out?Bilinski's is unique because of our true commitment to health and integrity in the products we sell. Since we created chicken sausage in 1989, we have made sure all our products are 100% all-natural and as healthy as possible. With as few as 70 calories per link and six individual ingredients, all of our chicken sausage has a clear and understandable ingredients list (we even list every individual spice!). We specify that "skinless chicken" is used in our products, because many companies use up to 20% chicken skins as a filler to save money. Every ingredient in our organic chicken sausage is locally sourced when possible; the wine and apples in our Apple Chardonnay sausage are from Upstate New York, the organic chicken is raised by the Amish in Lancaster County, PA, etc. We have the highest USDA safety rating possible and all of our sausage is made-to-order to guarantee the best quality for every batch. Our family's healthy philosophy for life flows seamlessly into our products.
What's the best business advice you've received?The best business advice I (Steve Schonwetter) have ever received was not advice actually meant for me. I grew up in the meat business: my grandfather had a deli and import shop in Brooklyn and my father owned a meat and cheese distribution company. I took over Bilinski's in 1983 and it still remains a family business. But when my father was hospitalized with a heart attack in 1989, I came across a hospital menu advising patients to avoid sausage, deli meats, and hot dogs; virtually every Bilinski's product! That's when I knew we had to reinvent the company to better-match our own philosophy of healthful living. So I created the then-unheard of chicken sausage and made sure it was all-natural before that was mainstream. To this day I can proudly say that all my chicken sausage is all-natural or USDA certified organic. As a triathlete myself along my daughter Stacie, who is a marathon runner, we are proud our company can now reflect our healthy philosophies at every level.
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