(Editorâ€™s note: This is the seventh in a series of reports about the new city of Central Falls, now clear of bankruptcy and proceeding anew. The continued success of Central Falls Provision Co. and its plans for the future exemplify the spirit, the grit and the hopes of the new city.)
By DENISE PERREAULT
Special to The Times
CENTRAL FALLS â€“ Paul Skoczylas has just finished making 1,000 pounds of kielbasa when he sits down to talk about his hopes and vision for the business his family has operated since the 1920s, Central Falls Provision Co., now celebrating 90 years in the sausage-making business.
An important part of his vision is a brand new product â€“ a jumbo hot dog â€“ that Skoczylas himself developed.
This is a busy time for him, the week before July 4th, one of the busiest times of the entire year. â€śOn a regular week, we make over a ton of kielbasa,â€ť he says. â€śThis week, weâ€™ve already made 5,000 pounds, so weâ€™ll be making close to three tons for the 4th of July.â€ť
That is a lot of kielbasa to come out of such a seemingly small place as Central Falls Provision, located at 847 High St. The business is tucked away on a sharp curve â€“ near the tiny, narrow tunnel close to the prison â€“ and most people probably donâ€™t notice it when they drive by. The building, recently renovated inside and out, is virtually spotless, giving the lie to notions about how messy sausage-making can be. The 55-year-old Skoczylas is dressed in white shirt and pants, as if to emphasize that his is the cleanest of companies.
The business has been in the same location since it was established in 1923 (when Warren Harding was president) by Skoczylasâ€™ grandfather, Vincent Albert Skoczylas, who had come to this country from Poland via Ellis Island just a short time before. The company remains a family-run operation, with Paulâ€™s mother and father â€“ Mitchell and Mildred Skoczylas â€“ still coming in to help a few hours each day, although both are in their 80s.
Besides regular kielbasa, the company produces a spicy hot version, Italian sausage both sweet and hot, bratwurst, Polish bake loaf and a limited amount of pork sausage. Yet, rather than dwell on the companyâ€™s traditional products and its past, Skoczylasâ€™ focus is firmly on the future and the plans he has, not only to continue the family business, but make it better than ever.
The jumbo hot dog
Consider, for instance, the companyâ€™s newest product: a jumbo hot dog, about the size of a large sausage link, which Skoczylas developed during a yearâ€™s worth of effort.
A self-admitted hot dog lover, Skoczylas said he created the new product with an eye toward â€śgearing it to the highest quality.â€ť Extra lean beef, pork and veal are among the ingredients, with natural casing, no fillers and no corn syrup, â€śall made from scratch,â€ť he said. â€śWe smoke it, like we smoke the kielbasa, in the smokehouse and it gives it that unique flavor.â€ť
He readily admits it was not easy to figure out how to make the jumbo hot dogs. It took some trial and error. â€śThereâ€™s an art to it,â€ť Skoczylas said. â€śYou canâ€™t just take things and throw it all together. It took me a while. I wanted to make something different, something that has the best in it, really high quality.â€ť And the end result? â€śIâ€™m very happy with it,â€ť he said.
For anyone interested in checking out the quality for themselves, the Central Falls Provision jumbo hot dogs will be available for sale at supermarkets like Daveâ€™s and Stop & Shop in about two or three weeks, Skoczylas said. Meanwhile, customers can stop by the High Street business to buy them. In a trial run, the jumbo hot dogs were served to -- and won rave reviews from -- the 30 or so people who attended the June 5 Blackstone Culinaria garden party at the business, sponsored by the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council (BVTC).
Few would believe that the provision company has the space to host a garden party, but it does â€“ behind the building, a grassy lawn runs down to the Blackstone River, creating an oasis of green space that has become home to three families of geese, a few ducks and the occasional blue heron. The June 5 event was the â€śfirst official garden party on the Blackstone,â€ť said Robert Billington, BVTC president, â€śand it happened in a most unlikely place, the back of a sausage plant.â€ť
Billington usually stops by Central Falls Provision when he leads the BVTCâ€™s leisurely bike tours on weekends and he mentioned how Skoczylas, always dressed in impeccable white, comes out to greet the bikers, â€śvery much at ease and very authentic.â€ť
The company is â€śso special,â€ť Billington said. â€śAny business that can survive 90 years, and in the same location on the river, is very unique in the United States today.â€ť Skoczylas, he added, â€śmakes it so much fun, to create new ideas and to implement them. Heâ€™s a great representative of the city, and of his company.â€ť
More parties to come?
If Skoczylas has his way, the June 5 event wonâ€™t be the last party he and his business host. Heâ€™d like to have more small parties on the back lawn, perhaps a jazz night and a Polish night, perhaps in conjunction with a local brewery or vineyard. â€śI donâ€™t want a restaurant or bar situation,â€ť he said. â€śI want to see more of a social event, an educational and a food event. Have people come down, have a good time, eat some good food.â€ť
In addition, Skoczylas is taking the company on the road, booking appearances at area food events. â€śWeâ€™ve never done food shows before, but weâ€™re trying to get our product out there,â€ť he said. â€śWeâ€™re excited about it.â€ť The Central Falls Provision Company will be at the Newport Blues and BBQ Festival on July 20 and at Newportâ€™s Oktoberfest in the fall, with more bookings to come.
He loves meeting his customers. For example, Skoczylas spoke of manning a booth at a P-Bruins game in Providence. A woman he never met before came up to him, gave him a big hug and told him her family has been buying his kielbasa for years. He was tickled pink. â€śIâ€™ve gotten to meet so many nice people out there,â€ť he said. â€śItâ€™s been a lot of fun.â€ť
An easy-going man who seldom seems flustered, Skoczylas would never think of moving his business anywhere else. The bankruptcy was â€śworrisome,â€ť he admits. â€śI didnâ€™t know what was going to happen.â€ť And, although he now lives in Attleboro, he grew up on Summer Street. â€śI worry for the city,â€ť he said. He is hopeful that, with the new mayor (James Diossa) in charge, â€śweâ€™ll turn it around,â€ť but feels everyone must contribute. â€śEverybodyâ€™s got to do a little,â€ť Skoczylas said. â€śWeâ€™re trying to do our part over here, but everyoneâ€™s got to fix up their own property.â€ť
A few details
Central Falls Provision Co. has three employees, besides Skoczylas and his family. A small gift shop sells company T-shirts and caps, along with Polish-style condiments such as beer mustard, sauerkraut and pickled mushrooms. The company ships orders anywhere in the country and has a Facebook page. More information can be found on its website, www.centralfallsprovision.com. Paul is married to Marie Skoczylas and the couple has two children, Christina, 12, and Mitchell, 9.