Max Protzel: Protzel’s Deli
Protzel’s Jewish Deli, nestled in the corner of Wydown and Hanley, has remained a staple since the 1950s. Selling the essentials–knishes, matzo ball soup, and of course sandwiches– to the Clayton and greater St. Louis community.
This family owned establishment has been passed down for several generations. Max Protzel and his sister Erica Protzel are the current owners. “My grandfather bought it in ‘54. It was for sale as a grocery store and he turned it into a deli,” Max said.
Max’s father, Alan Protzel, who formerly owned the deli, now works part time, stocking shelves and keeping inventory.
“It was my grandfathers then my dad’s and his brother and now my sister and I. So it’s third generation. My mom will work during the holiday times, but mainly my sister and I are working here,” Max said.
Max believes that his location has increased business due to his selective consumer base. “There’s a big jewish population in Clayton and that helps,” Max said.
Protzel’s makes an effort to accommodate its customers requests. “Parents [of Washington University students] call and say ‘My kid’s sick. Do you sell matzo ball soup? Can you deliver matzo ball soup?’” Max said. “Since we are the only jewish deli around here and delis are still big on the east coast, they call, and its five minutes away. Sometimes the trickiest part is finding the dorm, but it works. We do a lot of soup orders.”
The unique relationships that Prozel’s shares with customers has been a growing characteristic of the business.
“It’s good to see customers that you can really talk to. Every Sunday, there are three guys that come in and we talk,” Max said, “I’ve got some third generation customers.”
Protzel’s first gained their popularity due to their uncommon grocery store-candy shop combination. “When we first started here, grocery stores weren’t open on Sundays and there weren’t different sandwich shops,” Max said, “[But] as time went on, the grocery stores started doing what we do. Now you can go to the grocery store to get anything.”
Despite the constant changes in the restaurant business, Protzel’s has maintained its success by continuing their distinctive aspects. By making their own meat and keeping stock on the trademark candies, Protzel’s upholds the special experience that keeps customers coming back for generations. “We have to keep up and keep changing and separating yourself from that,” Max said.
Protzel’s is open six days a week, opening at 7:30 am till 5:30 pm on weekdays and 3:00 pm on weekends. Even though Max works long hours, running the store is what he enjoys most. “But it’s fun, I get to see people and talk to them. It’s good to see customers that you can really talk to,” said Max.
The loyalty of customers has remained extremely strong over the years. In spite of the frequent coming and goings of Wydown and the unpredictable nature of the restaurant business, the legacy of Protzel’s transcends generations and will last for many more.