First earning a bachelor’s degree in health care administration from Wilberforce University in 1994, Leslie R. Lester, BS, also holds a license for medical massage therapy from the Cleveland Institute of Medical Massage and became certified in hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) writing through the Ohio Department of Agriculture. For more than 20 years, she has excelled with Ray’s Sausage Company Inc., a company established by her grandfather, Raymond C. Cash, in 1952. Starting in a janitorial position, she has served as the HACCP coordinator since 2000 and the vice president since 2018. Now a third-generation owner of Ray’s Sausage, Ms. Lester is in charge of managing their spice blends and recipes along with other general duties concerning banking, bookwork and sanitation.
Operating under the motto, “Shop where it pays, and bring home the Ray’s,” Ray’s Sausage Co. is known for its high-quality meat that is guaranteed fresh, as it is sourced directly from slaughterhouses, and their excellent spice blends, which were initially created by Ms. Lester’s grandfather. In addition to their pork and beef sausages, they also offer head cheese and are the only producer of beef souse meat in the United States. Their products are currently being distributed in six states through a variety of grocery chains as well as local “mom and pop” style stores. They have even gained international attention as far as Dubai. Looking toward the future, Ms. Lester hopes that their move to a bigger facility will allow them to expand to more states, with the goal of distributing to 40 states in the next five years and eventually nationwide.
Attributing much of her success to hard work and dedication, Ms. Lester has made a name for herself as a strong, positive and magnanimous individual, also crediting her professional growth to the time she spent working on her own before joining the family business. She notes the importance of HACCP compliance, since all meat, poultry and seafood businesses need to have a hazard program in place, and is proud to have had one of her programs rank among the top three meat companies in the Cleveland area. Furthermore, in 2019 she brought Ray’s Sausage from being a state-inspected company to a USDA-inspected company, something she cites as the highlight of her career. Alongside her primary responsibilities, Ms. Lester has also contributed her expertise as a member of the advisory committee board of the Ohio Department of Agriculture and as a member of the Ohio Association of Meat Processors.
With their products sought after by customers for their quality and taste, Ray’s Sausage caught the attention of chef Andrew Zimmern of the TV show “Bizarre Foods: America” in 2013. Mr. Zimmern spent two days at the Ray’s Sausage facility, learning their process and getting an inside look at their proprietary recipes, with a particular focus on their beef and pork souse. The resulting episode aired from December 2013 to January 2014, where Mr. Zimmern gave Ray’s Sausage a number one rating and stated that they produced the “best souse he ever tasted,” which caused a significant uptick in orders from out of state.
Active in her community as well, Ms. Lester contributes to local Cleveland-area elementary schools every year. In the past, she has helped to put on Santa Claus visits, teamed up with Toys R Us to provide underserved children with toys for the holidays, and provided a local school with LifeVac kits. Her work in education has been recognized with newspaper features and in 2004 and 2005, she was presented with the Golden Apple from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District Board of Education and the Charles Dickens Elementary School. In her free time, Ms. Lester enjoys playing golf, reading, swimming and traveling.