Friday, June 30, 2006

Universal Housewares

I just had the sort of experience with a company that makes me want to tell all of my friends to buy from them. When I was in New Hampshire, I bought a manual meat grinder from an antique store. I'm sure the reasoning was that since it wasn't the sort of thing you plug in, and it did look a little old, that it was obviously an antique. I took it home and have used it several times, with great success. But lately, I've been wanting to get into sausage making again. I made quite a bit of sausage at school and it was a lot of fun. And the fact that I get to choose what goes into it is a definite plus. And let's face it, I'm a food hacker. Having personal insight into my food's source code is at least as useful as being able to read the source code of the CPAN modules that I use in my Perl code, if not more so.

Anyway, a few immediate problems did present themselves. For instance, I was unable to find anyplace that would sell me sausage casings for the longest time. I now have a few sites online that sell them. I also needed a sausage stuffer, which can get pretty expensive. And lastly, I would have liked different sized cutting dies for my grinder. You see, you can actually choose how big you want the meat to be cut. My grinder came with a pretty standard-size cutting die, but I wanted to play with larger and smaller dies. This is when I visited The Mending Shed, which is a shop down the street from my house that's really good at finding parts. They informed me that my grinder was not just old, but really old. In fact, there was a pretty good chance that I was just out of luck. After a search through their inventory, they eventually gave me the phone number for the original manufacturer, Universal Housewares.

I was immediately impressed when I called them. The girl on the phone was very friendly, and informed me that they did indeed have a die kit for my model. As it turns out, my model grinder was in fact a current model, even advertised on their website as such. Even better, the kit came with a sausage stuffer attachment, which would save me anywhere from $50 to $200 or so. The kit was only about $25 + $5 shipping, so I sprang for it. A week later, it came. As I opened the box and examined the components, I got increasingly excited. There were four different sized dies, and three different sized sausage tubes. They even included a cookbook! My excitement, however, dwindled when I removed the old die from my grinder and compared it with the new. The new ones were about 1/4" larger, and would not fit my grinder.

Travesty! I checked the packing slip and the box. Both were for my model, the 323. Perhaps I had an older model 323, which was no longer supported. I took several photos, uploaded them to a directory on my website, and called the company back. I was expecting to have to show them the photos and describe my grinder in detail. I was also expecting to be told that eBay would be my best bet, unless I wanted to buy the newest model 323. The girl asked me several questions, and informed me that she would have to have somebody else call me back (he was at the post office at the moment).

When he called me back half an hour later, it was not the call that I was expecting. The man asked me a few different questions about the grinder. Rather than asking me about my paperwork (which the antique store did not provide for some reason), he asked me to read some names from the grinder itself. He informed me that it was indeed an older model, with smaller parts. Before my heart had a chance to sink, he informed me that he would make me new parts and ship them right out, including the correct size sausage stuffers. I asked about sending back the incorrect parts, and he told me not to bother, because it wasn't worth it. He's probably right too, it probably wouldn't be worth it for him or me.

So as it turns out, the people at Universal are extremely friendly, they make a killer product, and they'll do what it takes to make their customers happy. They won't make you jump through hoops, and they're extremely eager to help. This is the kind of company that I love to work with. Not only do I plan on buying from them in the future, I think it's worth it to tell everyone else to buy from them. The Mending Shed does carry a few of their recent models in their showroom, so head on down there and check them out.

I'm hoping for my parts to arrive in a week or two, so that I can post a few sausage recipes. I'll keep you posted on both the new parts and the recipes. Stay tuned!

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