Rub a dub dub,
Three men in a tub,
And who do you think they be?
The butcher, the baker,
The candlestick maker.
Turn them out, knaves all three.
Working men and women and their contributions have been recognized on Labor Day for more than a century.
New York State created a Labor Day holiday in 1887, and a Congressional Act in 1894 designated the first Monday in September as Labor Day throughout the country.
As we celebrate the holiday, Buffalo News photographer Robert Kirkham went back to a childhood nursery rhyme for a view of some modern American workers with some very traditional jobs: the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.
Joe Kennedy worked as a “clean-up” kid at a meat market in Philadelphia when he was 14.
“When I left there ... I swore I would never work in a meat market again,” he said.
When he was 30, he became a chef. Then he heard that Spar’s European Sausage and Meats on Amherst Street was looking for an apprentice. He became an apprentice “Metzger” – German for sausagemaker – to founder Eric Spar. Kennedy and his wife, Beth, bought the store in 2005. She runs the front end, and he runs the back end, and both of them get behind the counter and sell to their customers.
“I’ve been quite happy. It’s a much better lifestyle.”
His average work week ranges from 60 to 70 hours, and he’s often in the shop six days a week for 10 to 12 hours a day preparing food.
“This particular job that I do, I do it because I love making great food ... It’s very labor intensive, and it’s not for everybody,” he said. But, he added, “There is great satisfaction in providing people with great food.”
A graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, chef Shetice Williams would cringe whenever anyone asked if she baked.
“I’ve always been a chef. I didn’t bake at all,” she said.
Then about five years ago, she made a cake for her mother. “It was absolute amateurish, it was hideous,” she said. “But she loved it because it was from me.”
That’s the day she thought, maybe she could learn how to bake. So she started experimenting, baking cakes and cupcakes. Four years later, she opened Cake Crazy Bakery and Gourmet Catering on William Street in Cheektowaga. “Baking is a science. You have to really know how to read recipes, and then understand the science,” she said.
And sometimes you have to put in long hours. There have been times when her day started at 2 a.m. to get orders ready. Williams creates every recipe the shop uses. She insists she’s not creative, and has customers email pictures of cakes they might want.
“I have cake decorators who are artists,” she said. “I make sure it tastes good.”
Making candles for a living was not the plan for Jeffrey Schumacher.
“My wife was a big candle-burner,” he said.
And Schumacher and his wife, Teresa, wanted to use something more healthy in the home where they raise their four children, so Teresa started making some of her own candles. Even using soy wax, it was difficult to capture scents in the candles.
“That’s when I got involved. I’m analytical,” Schumacher said. “How do you get the candle to smell good in the jar cold but also when it’s burning?” Working in their basement, they developed a technology to pour more fragrance into each scented candle.
“I could not believe it when we started selling out of a kiosk in Boulevard Mall,” he said. “I could not get over how people were candle crazy.” Pure Integrity Soy Candles now has two retail locations, and vibrant internet sales.
“Every time I pour, it is peaceful and relaxing and you are in your own little world. Everything else goes away,” he said. “It is a wonderful way to make a living.”