Meet the man who stepped in to save beloved St John’s Wood deli
- Credit: Archant
Bridget Galton visits legendary St John’s Wood deli Panzers to see how it’s been spruced up
In 1943, a Czech refugee called Walter Vogl joined forces with St John’s Wood local Mr Panzer, who already owned a deli in Notting Hill.
Together they opened a German-Jewish grocery in St John’s Wood, and although Mr Panzer soon departed from the partnership, throughout war, rising rents and redevelopment, the shop that bore his name continued to serve their signature bagels and smoked salmon to successive generations of north Londoners.
But in recent years this once grand establishment had started to show wear and tear. And when loyal customer David Josephs heard that Walter’s son Peter was selling up, he stepped in.
“My grandfather brought me here when I was six,” says Josephs who grew up in Hampstead and attended New End Primary and St Antony’s.
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“It was part of my family tradition to come here on Sunday mornings for smoked salmon and bagels. I did the same with my own kids, it’s not just a normal shop, it’s a legend, part of the community.”
Steeped in nostalgia for Panzer’s, Josephs, who co-owns a fruit and veg retail and wholesale business, approached Peter Vogl.
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“Peter was in his 70s and I heard a rumour that he was interested in selling up and retiring. There was talk about it being a supermarket and I thought that would be a tragedy.
“The average age of customers was about 80 and it was pretty run down. It was sad to see it under invested in, most shops like this are dying. My passion was to bring it back to life.”
Over three years, Josephs has breathed new life into the store, with a multi-million pound refurb that has brought this 1940s grande dame into the 21st Century. Now the likes of Nigella Lawson,
Giles Coren and Yotam Ottolenghi have been spotted filling up their baskets from shelves that include that St John’s Wood household staple chandelier cleaner to gluten free cakes, Russian ice cream, Japanese sushi, Italian pasta, exotic fruit and veg, and a cheese counter. Future plans include adding a juice bar and florist, but the father of five hasn’t thrown out the baby out with the bathwater.
“It’s an iconic brand and I wanted to revitalise it while holding onto those traditions, without losing the ethos of Panzer’s.”
There’s now a cofee bar, with coffee by Square Mile Roasters, a professional kitchen where salads, sandwiches and hot dishes are made in house, bread from Breadhead and Dusty Knuckles, and goods from the USA to please the local Americal population.
But there are still bagels and smoked salmon expertly hand-sliced, in three different styles, from oily to a drier cure.
“I knew nothing about running a deli,” admits Joseph’s cheerfully. “People said I was mad and it was a dying business to run a local grocery or compete with the likes of Tescos who buy everything and bring nothing to the community. But I wanted to give it a try.”
The 54-year-old co-owns Clifton Greens, Parkway Greens, Newington Greens, Eastern Greens, and supplies top restaurants and shops including Ottolenghi, Moro, the Ledbury with exotic fruit and veg imported from Milan and Paris.
“My passion has always been food,” adds Josephs. “Ten years ago, I had an office in East London and used to pass Newington Greens which was an awful fruit and veg shop. Then it was taken over by a Kurdish guy called Bora selling really high quality stuff.”
They expanded the idea to Clifton Gardens in Maida Vale. “We designed it beautifully, put in the best fruit and veg available, sold it at reasonable prices and people came. Yotam Ottolenghi lived in Maida Vale and used to come in write nice pieces. It took off from there.”
He adds: “My passion is to revitalise the high streets which are being killed by Tescos which suck the life out of everything.
“We’ve now got a wonderful site and have been developing new ideas. Panzer’s is not about the money, it has to be fun. If it’s not fun I am not interested.”
Panzer’s is at 13-19 Circus Road, NW8 and also offers hampers, catering, home delivery panzers.co.uk.