Four generations of the Zarzycki family have lived behind or above their funeral home, starting with founder Agnes Zarzycki, the first woman funeral director of Polish descent in Chicago. Today, 101-year-old Zarzycki Manor Chapels is still run by women, who are upholding old traditions—like conducting funeral services in Polish—while bringing in new ideas to keep their business going for the next century.
It takes a lot of work to make a dead body appear healthy and lifelike. It also takes a lot of chemicals, like the kind manufactured by 124-year-old Frigid Fluid. In this mini episode, learn more about embalming and some of the strange phone calls that the company gets.
The modern practice of embalming started in the U.S. during the Civil War, and Brian Yeazel’s family got into the embalming fluid business a few decades later. Frigid Fluid, the company his great great uncle founded in 1892, is also the inventor of the automatic casket lowering device. Brian, who took over in 2013, has discovered that even a business based on life’s only certainty—death—isn’t nearly as steady and predictable as it may seem to outsiders.
R. Russell Builders is still recovering from the worst housing market it’s experienced in its 60-year history. But before “subprime mortgage” was a household term, company founder Ron Russell, Sr. was overcoming his own personal challenges so he could pursue the career he wanted.
The housing crisis wiped out half of the homebuilders in the U.S. This is the story of one that survived, but emerged from the recession to find both itself and its industry drastically changed. Ron Russell Sr. founded R. Russell Builders in 1956, and the company found success in converting large tracts of raw farmland in Chicago’s western suburbs into tidy subdivisions. His son, Ron Russell Jr., was at the helm of the family business when the crisis hit, and he’s charting a course for R. Russell Builders in a housing market that’s still chastened from the recession.
Willie David Langford Senior’s picture is on the wall of Langford’s Barber Shop, the business he founded in Atlanta in 1964. The barber shop has long been a neighborhood haven, not least of all for the many kids who grew up in the area. In this mini episode, hear more about Willie Langford’s legacy and the young people he took under his wing.
LaMichael Langford grew up watching his uncle run a barber shop and would sneak in his friends to cut their hair. LaMichael eventually took over the business that his uncle opened in 1964, and Langford’s Barber Shop has been a constant in an Atlanta neighborhood that’s seen significant demographic shifts over the decades. Throughout all the changes, Langford’s has been there—both for its customers and for its longtime employees.
John Stallworth has worked almost non-stop at his hardware store for over 40 years. He’s passed that work ethic down to his son, John Jr., who works alongside his father at the shop on Chicago’s South Side. In this mini episode, find out what it takes to run a neighborhood hardware and bike repair shop that helps anchor its community.
John Stallworth has been selling hardware and fixing bikes at his shop on Chicago’s South Side for 50 years, helping to anchor a neighborhood that’s struggled with population loss and divestment. John’s Hardware and Bicycle Shop is the kind of old-fashioned business that’s happy to sell customers two nails instead of a whole box. The store’s motto is “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” Today more than ever, the neighborhood needs John Stallworth and his business.
Jenny Yang held many different jobs in Taiwan and the U.S. before discovering her passion: running one of Chicago’s oldest tofu manufacturers. In this mini episode, Jenny talks about her long, winding journey to Phoenix Bean Tofu and how immigrating to the U.S. opened new possibilities for her.
In 1999, Jenny Yang discovered a small tofu company in her Chicago neighborhood that made the fresh soybean curd she remembered from her native Taiwan. Seven years later, when Jenny learned the business was in danger of closing, she impulsively stepped up to buy it. Jenny didn’t just guide Phoenix Bean Tofu through the transition, but opened new markets for her products and today is on the cusp of a major expansion.
Choosing and taking care of a knife can be an intimidating process for home cooks. In this mini episode, Northwestern Cutlery owner Marty Petlicki and a culinary school director offer some knife tips and dispel a common misconception about what a sharpening steel actually does. (Hint: It’s not for sharpening!)