July 31, 2018
DEFINITION: Highly pleasant to the taste; delightful.
What does it take to become a local legend in sandwich-making? The recipe calls for a family history of food know-how, plus a generous amount of business savvy. Then, throw in a worth-every-hour homemade bread commitment and a good amount of community hospitality. (And, don’t forget the homemade sauce). This recipe plus a healthy portion of customer loyalty makes Marek’s Catering and Delicatessen, home of St. Joseph’s famous Torpedo sandwich, a success.
The restaurant earned the KQ2 Best of St. Joe 2018 award for best sandwich, among other accolades. Nothing on the menu boasts the staying power of the Marek’s name like the Torpedo. It starts with a homemade roll, which owners say take six hours to bake per batch. Then fresh veggies, ham, turkey and salami and two cheeses are piled on — all topped with the legendary Marek’s “dressing.” Or, marinade. Or, sauce. Or, whatever you choose to call it. Some reviews say it is the secret ingredient to the “best sub sandwich on the planet.” Perhaps its biggest award is the constant stream of word-of-mouth endorsements. It’s not uncommon to hear comments like “Have you tried the sauce?” or “Best deli anywhere!” when people mention Marek’s. It’s a go-to for group business lunches. They also cater private events and celebrations throughout the year.
Marek’s is no newcomer name to the St. Joseph food scene. The family name has been around since 1946, and even though it’s moved locations a couple of times, the restaurant has stayed in the original south side area. One of the early restaurant-style versions of Marek’s was opened by Walter Marek, Sr. and Mary Alice Marek, who offered curb service and later a bar and catering at Marek’s Lakeview Drive-In.
“St. Joe has been good for our family business. People are friendly, and we have a variety of customers of all ages. We have a loyal base of customers but also always new ones,” said Elizabeth Marek, owner. “It’s a lot of work, and lots of hours, but it’s worth it because we are a close-knit family and a close-knit community. We really do work well together.”
While a trip to Marek’s is definitely all about the food, it’s also an experience that’s way beyond the food. It’s also about the people. The owners, part of the original Marek’s Deli family, certainly know their customers. They appreciate the repeated customers while welcoming new faces in the door. There’s a consistent warmth and a level of personal service and customer loyalty that seems harder and harder to find. The Marek’s appeal spans across generations, such as customers coming in saying they had Marek’s catering at their wedding and then bringing their children in to try the food. There are customer stories of Marek’s after high school football games, and Marek’s for just about any other occasion.
“There is a multi-generational aspect to doing business in St. Joe that’s really unique. We have customers that are second or third generation come to us. We have catered weddings before and years later, cater another one for their grown children,” said Elizabeth.
A visit to the St. Joseph museums is … Quirky. Surprising. Curious. Impressive. Enlightening. And totally worth a day, or an afternoon, or a full weekend with the family.
Built in 1873, the Buchanan County Courthouse, with its majestic white pointed dome, stands as an architectural icon during the day and casts a warm stately glow over downtown St. Joseph in the evening light.
You don’t get on billboards in New York City, praised by publications like Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly and perform alongside rock legends without breaking some rules.
Following formal distribution of the locally-filmed movie “Christmas at the Chateau” in 2019, it’s likely that many watching from home will say “Where did they film this? This place is amazing.”
More than a decade of service later, the program continues to grow. Most of the kids who live in this St. Joseph neighborhood receive free or reduced priced breakfast and lunch during the school year, but have limited food resources in the summer.