Little Known Facts

  • Passover
  • Family
  • Gramps
  • Produce
  • Innovations
  • Promotions
  • Dad Remembers
  • Mike Remembers
  • Paul Remembers
  • John Remembers
  • Judy Remembers
  • Anecdotes
  • Employees
The Passover Holiday

Planning for Passover was like planning for the D-Day invasion. The entire store was reset to accommodate the tractor trailers of merchandise that arrived directly from the kosher manufacturers around the country. Flotken’s became known as THE place to purchase Passover foods and we did everything in our power to follow the strictest dietary laws when displaying and selling the Passover merchandise. We quickly became known as St. Louis’ Passover Merchant.

Prior to the holiday, we had meetings with all of the employees teaching them the meaning of the holiday and how to respect its many traditions. Our huge, selection of unique Passover merchandise brought customers to our store from 6 states. Even before regular grocery stores were allowed to open on Sunday, we obtained special permission to be open for the 2 Sundays prior to Passover to accommodate our local and out of town customers. This helped our orthodox customers since traditional laws prohibited them from shopping on (Saturday) Shabbot. And due to the old “Missouri Blue Laws”, we had to be extremely careful to only sell the items that were allowed by the state.

As I said, we did our best to respect all of the Kosher traditions and the special requests of our orthodox customers, as well. I remember one of our customers who wanted his grocery cart lined with matzo boxes so that the Passover foods wouldn't come in contact with a traife (non kosher) shopping cart. Dad even met with the Vaad Hoeir of St. Louis each year to sell our family’s Chametz. The Vaad is a kosher agency that, among many other services, assures that kosher food items met the dietary requirements of Jewish Dietary Laws (kashrus). Chametz is when flour is mixed with water and allowed to ferment (or rise) before being baked. Since Passover is the festival of unleavened bread, Chametz (leavened bread products) may not be consumed during that holiday. So, not only did our family not consume any Chametz during Passover, no member of the Flotken Family owned any Chametz during the holiday. We became respected for going the extra mile and making it easier for our customers to uphold all of their Jewish traditions and dietary laws.

We began organizing and planning for the holiday around January 1st so that we knew exactly what had to be done to the store, what products were available, where the items would be coming from and what items we would be featuring. One year we even carried a line of kosher for Passover cosmetics. These unique items complimented our complete selection of grocery, dairy, meat and produce merchandise.

Family Working In The Store

When your last name was Flotken, you grew up working in the store on weekends and during all vacations. My siblings, Paul, John, Judy and I all grew up there and Dad gave us jobs and the responsibilities that went along with them. As soon as we were able to stand up, Dad started us in the Jell-O department. This made a lot of sense, since it took us hours to straighten those little boxes and if we happened to drop anything, the boxes didn't break.

Each of us found our niches in the store. Paul found his home in the produce department, John specialized in the dairy department, Judy became the deli maven and I learned how to cut meat.

Dad let each of us develop our own specialties and gave us every opportunity to shoulder as much responsibility as we could handle. We all learned how to respect people, manage customers and to provide the quality merchandise and superior customer service that made our store famous. This was a very unique opportunity and the lessons and skills we learned remain with all of us today. Paul and I continued our education in the supermarket arena—Paul went to Michigan University where he took advanced supermarket courses and worked in the store after graduation. I attended Mizzou in Columbia and under the direction of Dr. William Stringer, helped develop a supermarket sanitation system, also returning to our store upon graduation. John branched out into the restaurant business and Judy became a personal trainer.

Morris Flotken—Gramps

Gramps sold his store in the 1970’s and came to work in the Olivette store’s produce department. He loved handing out samples, schmoozing, and picking out fruits and veggies for customers. Unlike today's supermarkets, our store was not only was stocked with quality merchandise, but with expert clerks, as well. We used to brag about our service produce department. Many of our customers would simply drop their produce shopping list off with one of the department clerks and come back to find their order filled with the finest that nature had to offer. In fact, Gramps was so proud of a group of tomatoes, that he put rolls of Charmin on the display stand asking customers to squeeze the Charmin and not the tomatoes, which was contrary to a Charmin advertising campaign airing at the time.

Our Famous Produce Department

Dad went to extraordinary lengths to bring the finest fresh fruits and veggies to our store. He developed a special relationship with a produce company (Melissa Foods) on the Los Angeles produce market and we regularly flew shipments of fresh produce to our store. The same was true for one of our growers in Puyallup, Washington. George Richter grew extra large cherries, black berries, raspberries which we flew them to St. Louis. We were the first store in St Louis to sell Queen Anne/Rainier Cherries. Summer was our season and Dad was like a boy with a new toy. Our produce department was the talk of the town. I dare say that we had more varieties of summer fruit than anyone else—plums, nectarines, berries, melons, and our famous slurping good peaches were regularly stocked items. Since we were shipping all of fruit from our growers by air, we would advertise that the fruit in our store was literally on the tree the day before they arrived in St. Louis. Our peaches, plums and nectarines were so juicy, that you needed a bib to keep the juice which dribbled down your chin. Our customers didn't need those ripening bags that the other stores are still handing out to their customers today; our merchandise was ready to eat NOW. Many years ago, someone came up with a “high tech” way to grade cherries. A standard sized stick was established and the grade, or count, was based on how many cherries would fit between the ends of the stick. Hey, this was before computers. Most stores purchased cherries that approached the 15 count size—our cherries were 10 -12 size—so we called them “plums on a stem”. The same was true with our peaches, plums, nectarines,melons and pineapples _ usually larger, riper and more flavorful than our competitors. Our in-store experts’ fingers developed a radar-like touch and the clerks could actually predict when the fruit would be ready for perfect eating. To this day, I am asked to pick out fruit when I shop. And in order to recognize our Supreme produce buyer, the season was dubbed Frank Flotken’s Finest Fresh Fruits, a campaign developed by a well known St. Louis advertising guru, Frank Roth _ a long time friend and customer.

Inovations

Gramps and Dad were always innovators and always tried to be at the forefront of supermarket industry technology that woud improve our customers' shopping experience. Back in the 1930's, Gramps worked with National Cash Register, now called NCR, to develop the first cash register with a locked in customer count total. The machine still couldn't add, but it did have a locked in customer total. This was a huge step in customer tracking. National Cash Register produced the unit and paid Gramps $100 for the idea. Of course, NCR went on to develop many more complicated front end equipment. There is a picture of this register in our archive gallery.

Very early on, Dad recognized the power of the computer in the grocery business very early. In 1974, we were approached by representatives of the now defunct MSI Data Corporation of Costa Mesa, California and shown the advantages of front-end grocery scanning. After a year of training, installation and setup, we became one of the first of two scanning systems to be installed in St. Louis. Then Dad let me experiment with integrating a personal computer into the store system. This modern marvel and gave us additional tracking, management reports and other operatinal information that we didn't have before. And this was back in 1976. Our first computer a 5 megabyte hard drive and a DOS operating system—extremely primitive by today's standards but, in 1976, that was state-of-the-art!

Many customers were extremely skeptical about the new technology called scanning. Some people were actually afraid of this new “machine”. We had customers that refused to have their groceries scanned because the process introduced radiation into their food. People with pacemakers and pregnant women didn’t want to go near the scanners. Customers would keep their babies and children away for fear of sterilization. As we look back at these fears, we laugh, but, these were serious concerns and we had to overcome these fears. We even invited customers to scan their own groceries. It was a major educational process.

In keeping with our quality tradition to offer the best merchandise we could, Dad joined forces with Miss Hulling’s Bakery and placed their pastries, sweet goods, breads and carry-out foods in the store. David, their truck driver, would deliver fresh delicacies each day along with special orders and decorated cakes.

Back in the 50’s and 60’s, it seemed as though all retail stores were giving out trading stamps as a sales incentive to their customers. Famous Barr led the way with the most popular S & H Green Stamps, one of our competitors had Pink Stamps, Kroger had Top Value Stamps, A & P had Plaid Stamps—in short, customers were used to receiving trading stamps along with their purchases, placing them in books, and redeeming the books for appliances, linens, jewelry and the like. In 1964, we introduced King Korn Stamps to the St. Louis Market as our way of being current and competitive. Eventually, trading stamps passed into oblivion when the St. Louis grocery stores began accepting Double Coupns. It is hard to believe that the Double Coupons promotion has been a fixture in St. Lois grocery stores since the 1980's.

1967 brought a brand new service to the St. Louis Marketplace. Most of the major department stores, gas stations and other retailers offered their own credit cards as a means of payment for goods and services. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to consolidate these charges into one card, like the Shopper’s Charge or the Charge-A-Plate. But, these cards weren’t accepted at all stores. That was until First National Bank of St. Louis introduced the Bank Mark Card. This card was launched with a big advertising budget and the timing turned out to be perfect. The ability to consolidate all of the credit cards into one took off like a rocket and consumers loved it. And Flotken’s was the ONLY grocery store in St. Louis that accepted the new card or any bank charge card until the 1990’s. The Bank Mark Card evolved into the Master Charge card and finally into today’s Master Card. Eventually, the Bank Americard, which became the VISA card of today was released as a competitor to Master Card.

Early in our history, another immigrant St. Louis family, Simon and Bobbie Kohn contacted Dad with an idea. They already had a kosher meat market, but wanted to expand by selling prepared, strictly kosher, prepared foods to the public. Dad was the first merchant to recognize this exciting new product line and gave the Kohn's shelf space in our freezer section. This began a long, wonderful relationship with the Kohn Family which grew and prospered throughout the years.

Dad always made certain that Flotken’s was on the threshold of what was new and he never was afraid to bring new product lines into the St. Louis Market. Some of the items that Dad introduced to St. Louis are:

  1. Queen Anne Cherries—now referred to as White Cherries or Rainier Cherries
  2. Dannon Yogurt
  3. Friendship Dairy Products
  4. Kosher for Passover Ice Cream from Woodlawn Dairy
  5. Israeli Matzos
  6. Tree Ripened Peaches, Plums and Nectarines
  7. Frozen Glatt Kosher Meats
  8. A plethora of Kosher for Passover items
  9. Provimi Brand Milk Fed Veal
  10. Vie de France Freshly Baked (in store) Croissants

Promotions

During the 1960's, when the doomsday clock was extremely close to midnight, we were approached by a company that wanted to display fallout shelters in front of the store. For those of you who are too young to remember those tense times, it seemed as though the United States and the Soviet Union were on the verge of nuclear war. People were actually building shelters in their homes to shield their families from nuclear fallout and stocking them with canned foods, water, batteries, anything that they would need in the event of a nuclear war. A fallout shelter could be anything from a sturdy concrete block room in the basement to a big piece of corrugated metal sewer pipe buried in the backyard with an access tunnel. And we had 4 of those metal pipe monsters in front of our store on display for sale, I might add. As you can imagine, the shelters attracted a lot of attention. I don't remember if the company sold any, but it did add to the public concern.

Dad Remembers

The downtown St. Louis business district was originally built over a series of underground warehouses and tunnels that allowed goods to be moved between the downtown stores without clogging up the city streets. Merchandise was transported through the tunnels by means of an underground railroad system. This maze of passage ways stretched from what is now Busch Stadium north and west for many blocks. All of the grocery companies had warehouses in the district and this is where Gramps would go to pick up merchandise. Some of the tunnels still exist today. These tunnels also contained the steam pipes that provided heat to the various downtown buildings, as well as, places to store ice. During the winter, the Mississippi river would freeze solid and the river ice was cut and stored in these underground caves to be used throughout the remainder of the year.

Before WWII, municipal and other governmental records were not accurately kept. So in the interest of helping Gramps with the business, at the age of 14, Dad obtained his driver’s license and began driving Gramps' delivery truck (which was basically a flat bed stake truck) and running errands, delivering groceries and picking up merchandise. Gramps had regular customers “all the way out on Lay Road”. Of course, word “road” was a real stretch of the imagination—all of these roads were basically dirt horse paths.

I remember Dad telling me that there was very little meat during the Depression. But, Gramps always seemed to have connections and was able to obtain the precious commodity. Dad would regularly drive the flat bed truck over to the East St. Louis Stockyards to pick up a load of meat. He told of an incident when he had 4 or 5 dressed cattle in the back of the open truck (there was no such thing as a refrigerated truck) and began driving back to Gramps’ store in South St. Louis. Dad soon had a parade of people following the truck since they all could smell and see the beef in the back of the truck. Gramps said that they had a record sales day.

Also back in the 1930's, there was no such thing as a discount or salvage store. So, when merchandise was damaged during transit or in an accident, insurance companies looked for outlets to dispose of these goods. Various merchants began to purchase the damaged goods at a huge discount, rummage through the merchandise, salvaging that which was salable and destroying that which was not. One episode that stuck in Dad's memory was when a Proctor and Gamble warehouse was flooded by some ruptured water pipes and damaged some cases of Ivory Bar Soap. Anyway, Gramps made a deal with the insurance company and bought the whole lot for pennies on the dollar. Dad was given the job to go through the countless cases of bar soap and see what could be salvaged. He peeled off the wrappers and put 10 bars in a paper bag which they sold for 10 cents. I seem to remember that the entire project took Dad a month or more to rummage through the mess.

The meat department used electric band saws, lots and lots of knives, grinders and other pieces of equipment to turn hanging beef into consumer cuts. One of the most used machines was the hamburger grinder. Scraps of 100% beef were placed into this powerful machine and it would grind it into ground beef or hamburger. There was no easy way to feed this monster other than with your hands. But, the machine was so powerful that it actually drew the pieces of meat into the grinder. And, if the operator was not careful, the grinder could pull your hand along with the meat. Gramps wanted to protect Dad from injury, so Gramps took Dad in the cooler, placed Dad’s hand near the grinder and slapped Dad’s right ear. “Why did you do that,” Dad cried, still writhing from the pain?” Gramps said that if he ever saw Dad’s hand that close to the grinder again, that slap would feel good compared to what he would do. I dare say that Dad learned his lesson the first time.

Mike Remembers

I was introduced to the grocery business when I was 5 years old. Dad let me dress as the Easter Bunny at the Kingshighway store and hand out candy to the customer's kids for the holiday.

The Olivette store always had deliveries coming and going at our loading dock in the back of the store. And, since we had 2 trucks of our own, as fate would have it, the wrong truck was always at the dock at the wrong time. So, when one of the trucks needed to be moved, we would find someone to clear the dock. Anyway, when I was about 15, I needed our the truck moved to allow a tractor trailer to back in and unload. As usual, I found Dad to ask him to move our truck. He reached in his pocket, threw me the truck keys and basically said you're old enough, move it yourself...that's how I learned to drive.

I was assigned to the meat department when I began working at the store. I learned the department from the bottom up, starting with breaking down cattle. In order to maintain the quality that we wanted in the meat department, we bought 7 to 8 weight cattle. This meant the entire carcass weighted between 700 and 800 pounds. Fortunately, the beef was shipped in 4 pieces...two forequarters and two hindquarters...each tipping the scales at about 200 pounds each. The pieces were placed on metal hooks which hung from the ceiling on a rail system. Converting these primal cuts into various the steaks and roasts that the customer is accustomed to is an art that is lost to modern methods. I dare say that there are very few people in the country that can break beef today. Most meat cuts cryovaced and shipped to the stores in boxes after being broken down at large production "factories". But, this is what everyone did until the 1990's. Since we used so many knives in the process, I was fitted with a heavy metal mesh gloves for the same purpose.

When a person opened up a meat shop, it was considered a life-long project and the equipment, tables and cutting equipment that was purchased was purchased for life. When Dad opened up his Kingshighway store, he purchased two HUGE butcher blocks with tops measuring 36 inches square by 48 inches high made of and solid oak. As the butchers would cut on the blocks, they would naturally cut into the top and wear it down. So, every couple of years, a little man would drive up to the back of the store, drag these behemoths outside and make the tops square and level again. Then, in order to bring them up to a usable height, he would add legs to the bottom of the block. This process was done over and over and over, basically for a lifetime. As the top was cut down, the legs at the bottom became longer. We still have these two blocks in our family. Mine weighs about 500 pounds and is solid, end-cut oak. I have yet to see any of these blocks anywhere else.

One of the many traditions of Passover was the roasting of the brisket. Of course, Flotken's was famous for the lean trim on the briskest that we sold and I can't imagine anyone selling more briskets than we did. The Meat Cutters’ Union work rules required us to prepare all meat in the store. So, we used to buy briskets in HUGE plastic lined, cardboard boxes, called Combos, which weighed in at about 2000 pounds. We had to physically take these bone-in briskets and trim them down to the individual roasts for our customers. This was an extremely labor intensive process, since case ready briskets were available in the “packer trimmed” form as we see them today. As you can imagine, we sold hundreds and hundreds of briskets each year to grace our customers’ tables.

Another delicacy of the holiday was the unborn chicken eggs. They arrived at the store in buckets and had to be packaged for our customers. Since I was the low man on the totem pole in the meat department, it was usually my job to package these eggs into plastic cartons. It seemed that everyone had to have a carton to give flavor to their chicken soup.

Then there were the Seder shank bones; everyone had to have a shank bone for their Seder plate. Since we sold so much lamb throughout the year, we saved lamb shank bones in our freezer so that we wouldn't disappoint our customers.

We remodeled the store from time to time. Most of the updating consisted of adding more refrigerated or freezer space. Of course, the heart of these new fixtures was the wiring and refrigeration equipment to make them work. The easiest and most efficient place to put these compressors was on the roof. Now, the manufacturer of our display cases, Hussmann Manufacturing Company, developed roof top units with the compressors in them to generate the refrigeration needed for the display cases but they hadn't quite figured out how to keep them running during the cold St. Louis winters and the hot St. Louis summers. One of my duties was to drape soaker hoses over these units in the summer to keep the roof top units cool or wrap the units with plastic in the winter to keep them warm. My system was extremely low tech, but it worked great.

Late one quiet spring night, I was awakened by the phone call that no merchant wants to receive. The call was from the Olivette Fire Department telling us that the store was on fire. A wire in our grocery stock room shorted out and sparked a blaze. The Firefighters responded with incredible speed and extinguished the fire with little structural damage to the store. But, the store filled up with smoke, the power panels were destroyed and we were basically out of business. It was about that time that the day's crew began to arrive for work; of course there wasn't going to be any for a while. Calls were made to our insurance agent, Pernicoff Construction Company and others to make plans to complete the repairs as soon as possible. Even our next door neighbor, John Via, arrived on the scene after seeing the event on the morning news, and offered us office space and a telephone. Since our employees were basically out of a job until we reopened, Dad made a deal with the insurance company to use our employees to do the cleanup so our crew wouldn't lose wages. Everything was kicked into high gear; we emptied the store of all stock, repaired the building, cleaned the facility and reopened in 20 days. Quite an accomplishment considering the huge task.

The Olivette city officials did everything in their power to help us with our re-construction by being available with the necessary inspections and assistance on a moment’s notice. It was truly a team effort. Everyone knew what they had to do and we finished in record time.

Those who remember the brutal winter of 1983, remember the thunder snow storm which dropped about 30 inches of the wet stuff on St. Louis one cold night. Once again, Dad was out of town so I received a call from the city manager, Jerry Feldman, who wanted to know if the store was going to be open the following day. I informed him that I would do my best but the snow was so deep I was concerned about getting to the store from my Olivette Home and plowing the parking lot for customers. Jerry's concern was that the residents of Olivette would need emergency food supplies; he was always acting for the good of the Olivette residents. Then there was the issue of plowing the parking lot for customers. Jerry said that he would have one of the city's snow plow trucks pick me up at my home and drive me to the store if I would open up. He also would have the city trucks plow our lot. So, the next morning, my wife, Wendy, and I were chauffeured to the store in one of the big city snow plows making us the only store open. Then, just as promised, the city trucks cleared our parking lot. Since the only way to get around was on foot, people hiked up to the store, pulling their sleds. Wendy and I ran the store and sold everything that we could.

One severe St. Louis storm destroyed the flag pole in the front of the store. It was at this time that we decided to move the pole and wanted to mount it on the building instead of in the parking lot near the street. One of our customers was in the business of installing poles, so we hired him to do the job. After the installation was complete, I walked outside to survey the work and noticed that the 15 foot flag pole was attached to the building with 4 concrete anchors bolts. I confronted the installer, mentioning that I wasn't an engineer, but it looked to me as though there wasn’t enough support to hold the pole on the building. After hearing my comment, the installer, pulled his cigar out of his mouth, looked down his nose at me and said, "Look, Junior, I have been doing this for 10 years and I know what I am doing." I knew in my heart that I was right but walked away, to avoid an argument.

The next morning, when I arrived at the store to open up guess what was lying across the parking lot? That's right, that 15 foot flag pole. Just as I predicted, the 4 bolts had come out of the wall and the pole had fallen onto the parking lot. It was very lucky that it had happened at night and no one was hurt. It landed across 3 parking spaces and would have destroyed any cars that would have been in those spaces. Gramps used to tell me never to get mad, just get even, and I was up to the task. I called the installer, at home, at 6am, and said, "Good morning, this is Junior, our flag pole fell down last night." I wish I had had a camera to take a picture of his facial expression when he arrived to fix his mistake.

I even met my wife at Flotken’s. Wendy Sherman (her maiden name) would do her mom’s shopping at the store and frequent the meat department where I was waiting on customers. Since we boasted a service meat department, we had riser behind the department so that shorter guys, like me, could see over the cases and talk to the customers. Because of this platform, Wendy always thought that I was taller than I actually was. I finally asked her out for a date, and, thinking I was taller than she was, she wore those platform shoes that were fashionable in the 1980’s and I wore dock shoes. Anyway, when we got together the first time, she ended up to be about 4 inches taller than I. But, this began a successful romance and a long, happy marriage.

As it turned out, Wendy’s dad, Nat Sherman’s brothers owned Sherman Produce and Wendy’s uncle owned Adolph and Ceresia Produce—both companies were long time suppliers of our produce. St. Louis is truly a big, small town. Wendy was also related to the Sherman Brothers of the deli fame.

I remember the time when we sold one of our customers 12 lobsters for a very special dinner party. Of course, as we all know, lobsters arrive at the store LIVE and are shipped and sold that way. I should mention, this was before stores had lobster tanks, so they arrived at the store, via air freight, in big boxes, packed in sea weed. When our customer got the lobsters home and discovered that they were still alive and that she was going to have to drop them into boiling water to kill them, she freaked out and called me, at home, on a Saturday evening. To make a long story short, I ended up going over to her house and boiling the lobsters so that she wouldn’t have to kill them.

Our meat department became famous for our homemade corned beef briskets and pickled tongues. The pickling recipe was handed down from Charles Delaloy and we kept a supply of brine on hand so that we would never run out of these two items. The briskets and tongues were pickled for 32 days in plastic barrels and kept in the meat cooler. And, when you could float a red potato in the brine, the process was completed. Then there was the task of retrieving the briskets and tongues from this cold brine. Once again, I was the low man on the totem pole and it was my job to reach my hand into this brine (that had been in the meat cooler for 32 days) up to my elbow and grab the tongues and briskets for our customers. I can still feel that cold brine.

When Del retired from the store’s meat department, he gave me all of his reference books on how to operate a meat department. Some of these books go back to the 1930’s. I have always treasured this gift of knowledge and you can view some of the items in our gallery.

Paul Remembers

We trained all of our employees on the job. I remember one front end clerk that was hired for Passover—our busiest season. Brother Paul and I were up front bagging groceries when I asked Paul where the new bagger was. His response was that Bob went out on a carryout and was probably still outside getting carts. About an hour passed and finally, this bagger sauntered back into the store. When asked where he had been for the past hour, he remarked, “well, I carried the customer’s groceries out to her car, and she jokingly asked if I would go home with her and carry the purchases into her house. So, I got into her car and finished the service!” We all got a chuckle out of this, but at least the employee was thinking of customer service first.

Power outages were one of our biggest fears. Those were the days before portable generators and emergency backup systems. Whenever the power went out, we scrambled to purchase dry ice for the freezers and refrigeration cases to preserve our merchandise. Then we would cover the cases with heavy wool blankets and aluminum foil. Believe it of not, this held the product for over 8 hours, which was usually long enough for the power to be restored. I remember one time that Dad was out of town, leaving Paul and I in charge when the power went out. Oh, I forgot to mention, that naturally, this always happened in the middle of the night--how convenient. Our grocery wholesale house, Associated Grocers of St. Louis, always kept a supply of dry ice on hand, so we got into the old station wagon and prepared to drive down to the Berthhold Avenue warehouse to pick up dry ice. As Paul and I were getting into our car, up drives Bob Kriegshauser of Olivette’s Kreigshauser Mortuary. He was desperately in need of dry ice too since he had a couple of corpses in HIS mortuary; so, all three of us picked up the ice that we needed.

As I said, the Flotken’s was truly a family operation and everyone got involved in the business. Paul’s wife, Terry, thought that our grocery bag needed a “fresh look”. So she changed the design from the original red “F” in a red oval, to a more contemporary “Flotken’s” logo running around the bag on an angle. This was a much more modern look and made our bag more recognizable. Then, later Terry changed her original red logo design to red and blue. We used this design on our produce bags for continuity. There are pictures of all of these bags in the gallery.

Back in the 50’s, Gramps hired a truck driver and all around “utility” clerk named Eddie Bell. You had to have known Gramps, but, when he wanted something done, he wanted it done NOW! So, when he needed a delivery or wanted Eddie Bell to perform some job around the store, he would bellow out Eddie Bell’s name—and it was never just “Eddie”; always “Eddie Bell”. Well, one day Eddie Bell got married and Eddie Bell named his first born son, “Morris Flotken Bell”. We all know why—this gave Eddie Bell a great excuse to yell at “Morris Flotken”. Years later, Brother Paul read an obituary that announced the passing of Morris Flotken Bell. We received many phone calls about who this was and whether it was a relative.

One of the other big seasons that we had was the Christmas Holiday. Throughout the years, Dad built up a huge holiday gift business which consisted of all sizes of fruit baskets, wines, hams, turkeys, steaks, catering trays and jumbo sandwiches. Brother Paul took the reigns and was in charge of the holiday fruit basket onslaught. He would begin planning for making the baskets before Thanksgiving, by purchasing the wicker baskets, wrapping supplies, oranges, apples, bananas, nuts, wines, liquors—the list goes on and on. The baskets ranged from $9.98 all the way up to $150.00 and more. We had one client who used to purchase 10 baskets built in wicker suitcases with wines, cheeses, crackers, and a silver item. Several companies purchased hams or turkeys as gifts for their employees. And, all of these items had to be delivered. So, Paul assembled an army of delivery people who would work after school and on weekends to deliver these works of art. And, since this was way before GPS, each delivery person was given a map book of St. Louis. Each delivery was charted with the map coordinates to ease the process. The quantity of baskets grew to be so large, that Paul had to move the production off site and found empty warehouse space to be used for the operation.

When Dad opened up the Olivette Store, he insisted that everything be special, so he envisioned each employee wearing a red vest as part of their uniform. Thanks to Terry, one of the red vests was saved and is pictured in our gallery.

John Remembers

One of John’s first jobs was when Dad gave him a band of $1.00 bills from the bank and told John to make sure that there were 100 of the bills in the group. After spending a half hour counting them, he informed Dad that there were only 98. Dad told John to count them again and again—basically trying to keep John busy. Then there was the time that Dad purchased 100 cases of Crenshaw melons that were extremely ripe and had to be sold immediately. John was put in charge of the project and sampled them in the store as an incentive for our customers to purchase the sweet melons.

John also remembers driving out to the various farms to pick up produce. There were several farms where the old station wagon went to pick up home grown tomatoes, egg plant, cucumbers, berries, and other produce. We all loved driving to the farm, since we basically were paid for running errands.

Another job that we all learned early on was trimming produce. Frank Romeo taught us how to trim corn, lettuce and celery. We had an industrial garbage disposal in the produce prep room which was affectionately named “The Hungry Hog”. All trimming was done by throwing the waste into “The Hog” as you worked.

When our store was first built, the standard accepted method of disposing cardboard at the store level was to burn it in an incinerator. You could imagine the thick black smoke emitted from all of the stores. (How times have changed!) In the 1970’s, St. Louis County enacted a clean air ordinance where we had to install an after burner which made burning cardboard more environmentally friendly. We later replaced this system with a huge compactor where we literally crushed all paper and cardboard which was sold to the trash hauler.

One of the favorite places to hang out after work was our next door neighbor’s restaurant, Via’s, owned by John Via. John always had the best pizza in town and the bar was always hoping.

Judy Remembers

One bright spring afternoon, several of us were standing up near the checkouts, when a BIG white stretch limo pulled into the No Parking zone in front of the store. And out jumped, and I mean jumped, Richard Simmons...the exercise guru. He danced into the store and basically took over with his extroverted personality walking around saying hello to all of all of our customers. Down the produce aisle he went picking up peaches, plums and other fruit to take onto the plane back to Los Angeles. He had heard about our produce reputation and wanted to experience it for himself. It was quite an event. Dad even put together a customer fruit basket for him and his crew. If memory serves me, Richard was one of the first exercise gurus who endorsed fresh fruits and vegetables along with exercise to lose weight. There are some pictures of the event in our gallery.

Dad always drove a station wagon while we were growing up, since the vehicle was used at the store. It was always being driven to pick up merchandise from various suppliers. But, most of all, Dad used it to haul produce. Whether it was produce from the downtown produce market, or from one of the local farmers that we used for fresh berries, tomatoes, eggplants, or other delicacies. Then, on weekends, we used the station wagon as our second car. My brothers and sister were used to the “fragrant” odor of the car when we drove it on dates. And, occasionally, a phantom cucumber or tomato would roll out from under the seats and end up at our feet.

And, Dad took pride in merchandising products from St. Louis suppliers and growers:

  1. Harold Dielman Farms
  2. Thies Farms
  3. Busch Farms
  4. Simon Kohn Kosher Products
  5. Woodlawn Ice Cream
  6. Steve Apted’s Miss Hulling’s Pastry and food Products
  7. The Fishman Family’s Deli Delight Smoked Fish
  8. Pratzel’s Bakery bagels and Passover macaroons

Assorted Anecdotes

And, we had our comical moments too. There was the time that Coke Cola began bottling their soda in what became known as the hernia pack--imagine six 32 ounce GLASS bottles of coke in a cardboard, six pack carrier. To say the least, you almost had to be a weight lifter to handle the package. So, Coke introduced the plastic 2 liter bottle. The first 2 liter bottles were taller than they are today because there was an extra plastic “shock absorber” section on the bottom so if the bottle was dropped, this section would absorb the shock and the plastic bottle didn't break. The Coke salesmen would demonstrate the unbreakable bottle by dropping them on the floor showing that they actually did bounce. Anyway, Dad was so proud of these new bottles that he demonstrated the new package to customers including my mom. During one of her shopping trips, Mom decided to demonstrate the new unbreakable Coke bottle but had no idea that there was a difference between the plastic bottle and the old glass one. Just imagine the expression on her face when she picked up the old glass bottle of Coke and deliberately dropped the glass bottle on the terrazzo floor. When that 32 ounce glass bottle of Coke hit the floor and shattered, well you can only imagine the noise of breaking glass ringing throughout the store. Not to mention the mess of the broken glass and soda.

Our store became the center of the Jewish Community. It was even rumored that single men and women would frequent our store between 4 and 6 pm and could meet prospective dates. We never advertised this extra service.

Special Employees

Throughout the history of our store, we had many loyal employees. But, a few stand out and are remembered here for their special contributions and length of service.

  1. Our grocery manager—Jim Boever, who ran the grocery department, the scheduling of the personnel, buying all of grocery merchandise and displaying.
  2. Elsie Rickart—to call her a checker or the person who ran the office wouldn’t give her justice. She was involved in the entire store’s operation. Elsie began her service at Dad’s Kingshighway store.
  3. Frank Romeo—Produce Department Manager Extraordinaire—Frank gained his knowledge about produce from a lost era. He knew quality merchandise, knew how to display it, and knew how to sell it. Even though the Produce Department was Dad’s favorite, he would have been lost without Frank. Frank and his crew originated our Service Produce Department concept. Most grocery stores/supermarkets allocate between 5% and 8% of their sales to produce. Over a year’s time, our produce department did at least 25% of store sales, and in the summer months, it hit as high as 45%. This was all due to the incredible selection of merchandise, the freshness and the way it was displayed and promoted.
  4. Al Kirchhoffer—Al was the original truck driver but more than that he was also deeply involved in the Produce Department. He was also responsible to “walk the row” each morning—meaning he would go into each produce house on produce row, selecting only the best merchandise from the vendors. Then he would oversee the loading of our truck and drive the truck to the store where it was unloaded and the produce was processed for the “stand” or display fixtures.
  5. Verna XXX and Ruth Summers—two of the most loyal employees that we had. Both ran the front end for years.
  6. Dee XXX—also began as a checker and moved to the office. Years later she married Al.
  7. Then there were several outstanding men in the meat department—Charles Delaloy (Del) and Joe Krupsky. These two men forgot more than most people knew about the meat department. In the days of special cuts, and custom selection, they were the best. They put the “Service” into our service meat department. I learned so much about the lost art of really preparing meat, poultry, lamb and veal.

The people that I mentioned, were not just employees, they were integral parts of our operation. Customers relied on them to fill their requests and our crew was always available to provide that special melon, or a custom steak; activities that, unfortunately, have been lost to the big, impersonal merchandisers. Shopping at Flotken’s was a pleasant and personal experience. The employees knew the customers by name and the customers sought out the advice of these experts. They were never too busy to take a special request or help fill a special order. Everyone was family and treated as such.

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