Pork Roll Dynasty

Posted on Categories Food & Drink, Member News

For six generations, Cases in Trenton has put its family name on a beloved Jersey staple

The iPad screen displays eight different camera shots showing factory lines, smokehouses, coolers. A tap and eight new views appear further chronicling the production of a New Jersey food institution. Thomas Grieb, owner and CEO of Case’s Pork Roll, now lives in Naples, Florida, but remains a very hands-on executive. He monitors his Trenton factory from more than 1,200 miles away thanks to at least 30 cameras on the Washington Street site. If I see something, I call, but usually they’re good, said Grieb, the sixth generation to run this family business that produces a product as much a part of Garden State culture and pride as Sinatra and the Shore. There is a particular responsibility and pride to be part of this product that is important not only to his family but to the people of his home state. ͞The people of New Jersey really love it and they really embrace it, Grieb said. ͞That’s the best part, to be part of that. Case’s Pork Roll produces 10,000-15,000 pounds of pork roll products a day. They make pork roll bags or logs at various weights, as well as a sliced version in mild or tangy flavors. While it remains a Jersey-centric food, Grieb and company president Thomas Dolan have pushed the boundaries a bit. Cases Pork Roll can be found in diners, grocery stores, school cafeterias and wholesale stores not only in New Jersey and Pennsylvania but Maryland, Virginia, Connecticut and New York. Grieb was born into this pork roll business, the son of the late Arleen Case, who was the fifth generation of the Case family to run the business founded in Trenton by George Washington Case in 1870. Grieb became the sixth, something he knows is special. ͞There are businesses as old but not many with the same family running it, he said. I’m very proud of it. He never wanted to do anything else, he said. He never had the urge to rebel, find a different line of work. Since he was a teen, he has done just about every job in the organization from cooking the meat at night, to mixing the spices for the secret seasoning. He handled sales, delivery truck driving and worked all of the factory lines. By age 28, the only thing he hadn’t done was manage the business side. In 1988 he was forced into that more quickly than anticipated when his father died in a boating accident. My mother said, “You run it”, he said. “I had already done everything so I stepped in and took it over. It came as a shock. I had no time. I had to step right in, pick the reins up.”

He learned quickly and has been at the helm ever since. Grieb, who grew up in Hamilton Township, has known only the Washington Street office and factory, where the company moved in the 1940s. While Grieb has added space to the facility, he has never considered moving the business to a different location. We’ve just been here forever, he said. We get a lot of help from the mayor. There’s not a lot of big companies left in Trenton and they go out of their way to help us out if we need something.͟ Grieb maintains a residence in New Jersey but began spending more time in Naples than New Jersey about five years ago. He returns three to four times a year, or whenever he is needed, but is in touch every day and is the head of company-wide quality control. “Everybody knows what it’s supposed to look like, how it’s supposed to come out”, he said. I always tell them, “If you see one thing that’s not right, you need to call me right away”. Meanwhile, he has his family legacy shipped to him so he can enjoy it with eggs, French toast or in an egg sandwich. He never tires of eating it or introducing it to his uninitiated Florida neighbors. Then there are the transplants who find out about his family business and practically beg him to get them some pork roll in the South. “They get so excited, Oh my god, can you get me some? Can you bring some down?” On Washington Street, the scent of smoking meat wafts over the neighborhood, as it has for decades. When asked what part of the process makes the pork roll so special – is it the spices, the hickory chips and smokehouses, the mixture of the meat? – Grieb can’t narrow it down. “It’s the spices, the way we cook it, the smoking,” he said. “It takes three days to make a batch of pork roll. It’s a slow process to have it the way it’s supposed to come out.” While he has tweaked the spices and meat combination over the years, one thing he won’t do is try to speed up the process. “I won’t do it,” he said. “I’m not going to rush this product. You don’t mess with what works.”