ST. LOUIS - Joseph Kunkel Jr., who spent his golden years selling golden pretzels at a south St. Louis street corner, passed away last week of natural causes, his family said Wednesday. He was 94.
Kunkel first started selling pretzels at the corner of Jamieson and Fyler avenues in 1980 after retiring. Over the next four decades, Kunkel would work that corner Thursday through Sunday, but scaled back his time on the corner as he got older.
“I just had everybody driving by and stopping and giving me condolences about his passing," said Tom Kunkel, Joe's son. "He was a fixture on the corner.”
Tom said his father served as a Marine in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He returned home and worked for the U.S. Post Office until retirement.
Mr. Kunkel started selling Geigerich Pretzels, but then switched to Gus' Pretzels in 1997.
“Saturday was his biggest day. For a while he would sell 1,100 pretzels on a Saturday. An icon of St. Louis; he's just well-known from people passing and waving at him," said Gus Koebbe, owner of Gus' Pretzels.
Mark Allen, owner of Anmar Photography at the corner of Jamieson and Fyler, has bought plenty of pretzels from Kunkel over the years. And while Allen said Gus' Pretzels were great, the people all loved Joe Kunkel.
“He was well-known and popular in the neighborhood. Always had lots more people stopping when he was here, as opposed to someone else who would come," he said.
Others tried to copy Kunkel's success, which led to the "2010 Pretzel War." The City of St. Louis tried to make it illegal to sell merchandise at the corner, but Joe's supporters rallied on his behalf.
“They put up a page saying, 'Save the Pretzel Man,'" Tom Kunkel said. "It got 3,000 responses. Then the mayor came out, bought a bag of pretzels, shook his hand, and said, 'You're alright!'"
Joe continued to sell pretzels until two years ago, but his son said he'll try to continue the tradition.
“He'll be remembered. People come by and tell me they got pretzels when they were a kid and now they're 40, 50 years old,” Tom said.