Sendik’s – It is All in the Name
by Cynthia Sommer
The name Sendik’s brings to mind a five generation, family-owned business that provides quality service, fresh produce, meats and fish along with fine foods, gifts and flowers – but there is more than that in the name! John Sendik recently shared some of the history that led to the establishment and expansion of the Sendik’s grocery business at Downer Avenue and with stores later added in Bayside and Brookfield at 124th and North Avenue. The stores are currently managed by John Sendik, his brother Anthony and their father Salvatore with help from the next generation of family.Their goal is to insure that “Sendik’s is more than a grocery store – it’s an experience”.
The history behind the name Sendik’s is interesting and centers around the cast iron stove that is proudly displayed in the window near the door of the Downer Avenue store. The story dates back to 1891 when “Uncle George” who ran a horse and wagon produce business on the eastside, ordered a stove from an appliance salesman and asked that they “send it”. A communications problem led to the stove being sent to “Sendik” and with Uncle George deciding to use the name for his business. The name Sendik was made legal as the family name in 1935.
Uncle George moved back to Sicily to avoid the cold winters of Wisconsin and sold the business to Grandpa Anthony and later his father and brothers joined the grocery trade. The business flourished under hardworking Grandpa Tony and led to the opening in November, 1928 of a modest store, first on Oakland and Capital and then on Downer Avenue with several expansions of the business through the years. The current Downer Avenue building was purchased from the Uihlein family in 1962.
Grandpa Tony was an honest, straightforward, customer-oriented businessman who would open up his store to service customers after the closing hours or would call a dealer to make sure the seller charged him for extra merchandise that was mistakenly sent. It was not unusual for customers to be greeted by Tony at the door of the store. The many young employees that worked through the years at the store remember him as a teacher and mentor and credit him with their success. When the beloved Grandpa Tony died in 1992, the funeral was a Milwaukee remembrance. His story was told on the front page of both the Milwaukee Sentinel and the Milwaukee Journal and was also reported on all the major TV news programs. The TV anchor, Vince Gibbons, stated that “Today, Milwaukee has lost the Dean of Food”.
The current generation of owners strives to follow the business philosophy of Grandpa Tony of “Never sacrifice quality for price; Keep the customer happy; Run the business for the long run”. The Murray Hill Neighborhoods Association thanks the family for their many years of service to the community and hopes that the name Sendik’s will be seen in the neighborhood for many more generations. Downer Avenue is undergoing a major renovation this fall to insure businesses like Sendik’s will continue to be a part of the community for many years to come.