ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Joe Kunkel, the South City Pretzel Man, was an “icon” in St. Louis.
Gus Koebbe Jr., president of Gus’ Pretzels, says he and his wife attended the wake for the 94-year-old father of five, on Monday afternoon. He was laid out in his WWII Marine uniform, with his well-known red pretzel flag displayed next to him.
“He probably affected more people than any of us really realized,” Koebbe Jr. says. “Just somebody driving by and him waving at the kids in the car, just being friendly. People would go out of there way just to go to his corner. I just think he probably epitomized St. Louis.”
Gus’ Pretzels posted a photo to its Facebook page Wednesday morning, saying “Rest In Peace South City Pretzel Man. You will be greatly missed.”
Koebbe Jr. says Kunkel started selling Gus’ Pretzels on the corner of Jamieson and Fyler avenues in 1997, but began selling pretzels from a different company in 1980, until that business closed around 1997. He says Kunkel first was selling pretzels everyday, then as he aged would sell only on weekends.
“He was a great ambassador for us,” Koebbe says. “On Sunday morning he would come in and get like 1,100 pretzels from us and sell them all morning out there.”
Eventually Kunkel’s son Tom took over selling pretzels, usually with his dad but sometimes by himself (one of his sisters also handled the sales on occasion). Thomas continued that tradition this past weekend to honor his father, who passed away “peacefully at home” on Thursday, July 6.
“Thousands of people would drive by and talk to us,” Tom says. “And we just didn’t realize how many lives my father affected… A man who had to be in his 40s or 50s said has been buying pretzels from my dad since he was a little kid.”
St. Louisians can expect to still see Tom at that corner in south St. Louis City (on occasional weekends), still doing what Joe Kunkel was known for.