#DELICIOUS
Marek’s Torpedo

July 31, 2018

Written by Rachel McCoy | Photos by Patrick Evenson

CHARACTER TRAIT: Delicious

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.

Marek’s, located in the south side of St. Joseph, serves up the Torpedo sandwich alongside many other items, offering both a walk-in and catering business. Like many area restaurants, there’s a local following and familiar faces at the Marek’s lunchtime tables. This cross-section of St. Joseph is often mixed with visitors and tourists who find the deli on lists of St. Joseph dining options and its excellent online reviews.

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.

The current menu has expanded to offer different types of Torpedos, plus desserts, salads and other sandwiches, such as the pastrami and cream cheese or corned beef. There’s homemade Russian dressing and interesting options like the ham and hot pepper. On the catering side, the Marek family offers both hot and cold items.

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.

A few decades later, Walter Marek, Jr. and his sister, Elizabeth Marek, joined forces with their mom in the late 1970s to create the Marek’s Deli people know and love today. Even when the original Marek’s location was damaged and later demolished after a severe wind storm, the family persevered and reopened a short time later to its current Illinois Avenue location. It’s currently in its second generation of family leadership.

“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.

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