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Harlan Levin, the new owner of Pumpernickles Deli in Creve Coeur, has big plans. He said he hopes to place an edible bomb called “The PumperDog” on the menu soon. “It’s a Nathan’s foot-long all-beef dog cooked in an enclosed challah bun like a pig-in-a blanket,” he said. “I used to eat them with chili and onions on top every day when I worked at Shanker’s.”
Clearly, when it comes to deli food, Levin is no shlemiel. He worked at two now-shuttered delis, also in Creve Coeur, long before taking over Pumpernickles last month. He learned how to cut corned beef at Shanker’s Deli on Ballas Road as well as Louie’s Deli at the corner of Fee Fee Road and Olive Boulevard (which became Shermie’s Deli), some 30-odd years ago.
When it came time to hang his own shingle, the delicatessen business was in Levin’s blood like a vein of schmaltz running through a pound of chopped liver. After taking over at Pumpernickles, he made some changes to the menu: the portions of meat on the sandwiches are 1/3 larger than before, and the bread is sliced doubly-thick, he said. The bagel supplier is now the nearby Bagel Factory, and Hank’s Cheesecakes have been added to the dessert menu. The tuna salad has changed to Levin’s wife’s own recipe, and the chopped liver recipe has been “tweaked,” too, he said.
In 45 days or so, said Levin, expect a new printed menu intended to reflect the changes, simplify the choices, and combine sandwiches and a la carte sides into bundled meals. Also, he said, Pumpernickles hours will change to reflect some dinner hours. Right now, the restaurant is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends. Levin plans to extend the weekday hours to 6 p.m. “There are people coming home after work who would love to stop in and get deli food to take home for dinner,” he said. He also has ambitious plans for a delivery service to bring take-out to Monsanto employees and other businesses near the storefront.
Levin has also been busy continuing a tradition that many gentiles may not be aware of, the “shiva tray” (similar to images at right). A shiva is basically a Jewish wake, where relatives and friends of the deceased gather at a private residence after the funeral, to mourn, socialize, and nosh. The shiva tray is a catered tray of food for the mourners. It can be bagels and lox, deli meats and breads, a pan of kasha and shells, a dessert tray, etc. The shiva trays comprise a healthy chunk of his business, said Levin.
Other plans include a complete remodeling of the Pumpernickles interior, from booths and tables, to paint, to shades and blinds, to the art on the walls.
Another change: the name. Technically, the joint is now called “Sam and Jake’s Pumpernickle Delicatessen,” named after the sons of the previous owner. Levin will adjust the signage and change it simply to “Pumpernickles.”
In the meantime, the new owner is having fun making changes large and small, and kibitzing with the diners that congregate at the deli, particularly on busy Sundays.
“I get paid for schmoozing all day,” Levin said. “Sunday is like going to a giant Bar Mitzvah party for me!”
In a related story, Jay Silverman, who sold Pumpernickles to Levin, has plans to stay in the business. His “Deli on a Roll” is a food truck that will make delicatessen sandwiches to order, and cater to mechanics working at auto dealerships, he said.
Silverman said he’s working on the truck now, and expects it to hit the streets in about a month.
“This will be very quick service for mechanics at auto dealerships, who are under a lot of pressure to eat and return to work,” Silverman added. “Think about a mechanic who works at Weber Chevrolet at 270 and Olive. When it’s time for him to eat lunch, by the time he washes his hands, fights traffic to go across the street to Lion’s Choice, eats, and fights traffic to get back, it’s been 45 minutes. With the deli truck right there on the lot, they can get back to work in 10, 15 minutes if they need to. I’m trying to develop this so we can have a quick set-up and leave, and hit 12 to 15 spots in three to four hours.”
“My background is in the car business,” he went on, “and we used to get visited on the lot by what we called ‘ptomaine trucks’ or ‘roach coaches.’ They would blow their horn, and all the mechanics would come out and buy their disgusting sandwiches and chips and Twinkies. Now, we’ll be cooking the sandwiches right there on the spot, in the truck’s kitchen -- not any pre-wrapped stuff. I want the food to be fun, good, interesting, and quick.”
Silverman said his breakfast offerings are likely to include egg sandwiches, small omelets, French toast, pancakes, and bacon. For lunch, look for Reubens, salami, corned beef, pastrami, and other sandwiches.
Pumpernickles 11036 Olive Creve Coeur 314-567-4496 pumpernickles.com and firstname.lastname@example.org