LaJo’s remains in good hands

Julia Laura said, “It’s easy if you know what you are doing.”

Julia Laura and her husband, John, have been turning out sausage and other Italian products at their store, LaJo’s Genuine Italian Sausage Inc., 1101 Eighth Ave., since Good Friday (April 12) 1963.

“You need quality products. Our sausage is all-natural sausage. We don’t use preservatives or additives,” Julia Laura said. “No preservatives are allowed in this store, none!”

Julia Laura said her mother taught her how to make sausage when she was a teenager and she always wanted to open an Italian specialty store.

Today the store carries a large line of sausages, steaks and chops, cheeses, pasta, sauces and other Italian products from frozen ravioli and olives to Italian cookies and biscotti or biscuits that are great to dip into coffee and tea.

“We make about 5,000 pounds of sausage a week,” Julia Laura said. “We also sell imported dishes from Italy; 99 percent of my dishes are from Italy.”

LaJo’s – the name comes from the La in Laura and Jo in John – also has a thriving wholesale business that distributes its lunch meats, sausage, cheeses and Italian delicacies throughout Altoona, State College and Washington, D.C.

“Every Thursday my truck goes to D.C. and Virginia. Every Tuesday we go to State College and sell to the restaurants there. We have a big business over there,” Julia Laura said.

LaJo’s has been delivering to the Washington, D.C., area for about 25 years.

LaJo’s also distributes products to several restaurants in the Altoona area.

The Allegro Restaurant, 3926 Broad Ave., has been using LaJo’s products for about 35 years, said owner Dan Taddei.

“They have great products and are good people. Those are the two main things, and they offer good service. If you want to buy good imported Romano cheese grated off the loaf, you won’t get any better than right there,” Taddei said. “Laura and her staff won’t sell anything that is not top rate. We want the finest quality from sausage to filet mignon. We want the very best.”

Blaine Sidler, owner of Lena’s Cafe, 2000 Eighth Ave., also is a satisfied customer.

“We’ve been doing business with them for over 20 years because of the quality, quality, quality and quality. [Manager Jeff Wertz] gives us great quality. Jeff is a great guy and a gentleman. If there is anything wrong and I don’t remember any, he is there on it,” Sidler said.

LaJo’s sells an array of sandwiches including Italian hoagies and others that include sausage, turkey, ham and cheese, and about two years ago, it added its own line of pasta sauces – premium, marinara, spice pepper and Italian basil, all sold in 32-ounce jars.

“We don’t make it here, but it is my recipe,” Julia Laura said. “We use San Marzano tomatoes, a sweet Italian tomato; we sell a lot of the sauce here.”

LaJo’s is the lone remaining Italian specialty store in the neighborhood.

“There were seven others when we opened. No one else is left but us. Most were on Eighth Avenue,” Julia Laura said. “The competitors closed over the last 20 years one by one, and no one replaced them.”

Julia, 86, and John, 85, still enjoy coming to work every day.

“We are both still active, but John and I don’t make the sausage any more. We stopped about 15 years ago,” Julia Laura said. “I feel great. I look forward to opening up in the morning. John comes down a half hour later. I love the people. That is what keeps you alive.”

Julia Laura has no plans to retire.

“I will retire when God takes me,” she said.

The future of the business is in good hands. The ownership will pass on to their children – Joseph in Lavonia, Mich., and Joni in San Diego, Calif.

Wertz, who has been at LaJo’s for more than 20 years, will keep the business going.

“He is a great manager and a hard worker. The business is in excellent hands,” Julia Laura said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.