Why Pumpernickles Deli had to close


Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

“We did not fail. It was the numbers,” said Harlan Levin, owner and chief kibitzer at Pumpernickles Deli, which officially closed its doors on July 4. “We could have stayed open, but the grind with no light at the end of the tunnel was too much.”

Levin, 67, took ownership of the 100-seat deli and catering hangout in Creve Coeur in 2012. For a decade the family-run business weathered many storms, but eventually, economic conditions brought on by COVID became too much to bear.

“The last two years, neither myself nor my son took a salary. We worked to keep our employees working and pay our vendors,” said Levin. “But the restaurant business is a seven-day-a-week business even when you’re closed on a day. Weekends were picking up, but we depend on the weekday lunch rush from nearby offices. And since those offices remain empty, well it’s just the numbers.”

Pumpernickles Deli: Six-month grind

While the decision to close was made late last week, the discussion regarding the future was one that Levin, and his son Bryan, 35, had discussed often over the last half-year.


“We hoped things would get better, and in some weeks they would. We were consistent in our numbers, but that consistency was also around 40% less than before COVID,” said Levin.

And unlike many other local businesses that have closed over the past year, rent and debt were not a factor in Levin’s decision.

“Our landlord worked with us early on, as did our vendors, and everyone got paid,” said Levin. “Everyone got paid, our employees made money, but in the end, the decision to close was 100% based on the current business climate.”

With economic prospects growing more gloomy, Levin had to make business-minded decisions on how to close for good.

“This is a family business, and our customers are like family. We would have wanted to say goodbye with a proper last day, but from a business perspective, we could not close up with inventory and food not used,” said Levin.

In the end, Levin alerted his staff at 3 p.m. on Sunday, July 3.

“Everyone was sad, but they all are professionals, and they understand the nature of this business. They all seemed to appreciate that we made it as far as we did,” said Levin. “In the end, we ran through just about all of the inventory, so nothing is going to waste.”

Pumpernickles Deli: Final thoughts

Despite not paying himself for two years, nor taking a vacation in 10, Levin says taking over Pumpernickles in 2012 was a godsend.

“My wife passed away one year after we took over,” said Levin. “The deli helped fill the void in my life. It also helped keep my boys in town after they graduated from college, truly making it a family business.”

Levin says he and his team are as sad about the deli closing as his customers are and he knows that his decision also has created more voids, ones that won’t be easily filled.

“Matzo Ball Soup! No one makes Matzo Ball soup like ours. We inherited the original recipe but made tweaks to make it our own. It was so popular, that we would need to make 50 gallons of soup a week,” said Levin. “And our Matzo Brei. Those two things will be missed.”