THE HONBECK SPECIAL
By S. Gremminger,
Daily Journal, Assistant Managing Editor
April 24, 1992
A sandwich. A simple ham and cheese on white bread. Or maybe oberle sausage and cheese.
Wrapped in butcher paper.
Often times the bread would stick to the roof of your mouth. Lettuce and tomato would spill out the sides.
Just a simple sandwich. No, a legend. A Honbeck Special.
Throughout the 25 odd years the late Roy Honbeck operated Honbeck Grocery at the corner of St. Joe and Lewis St., he dispensed plenty of sandwiches, conversation and advice from his counter.
For hundreds of working people in St. Francois and surrounding counties the little store was the focal point of the noon hour.
A sign outside the store proclaimed it was "Home of the Honbeck Special."
Honbeck got into the sandwich business catering to truck drivers who used to drive along St. Joe Street when it was Highway 67. Next came the hunters stock-piling for their trips. Then the wives and mothers began discovering the sandwiches and taking them home.
Honbeck said in an interview in 1981 that he never advertised. He said people would come from all over to buy a sandwich. They would even, he said, drive out of their way.
"That Honbeck Special has made history. People come in and ask if this is where they buy those sandwiches. I tell them, 'You're at the right spot'."
Honbeck said one guy, a truck driver from Alabama, heard about the sandwich from a bus driver.
Honbeck theorized he could forecast the economy from the lunch trade at his store. When times were good more people bought Honbeck Specials.
"I could tell by the sandwiches I made. When there was construction going on around here, at 12 o'clock they'd be lined up out the door. Sometimes a guy would come in and buy lunch for a dozen men. When the interest rates went up, that business dropped off by half," he said.
Just buying the sandwich wasn't the only thing, it was the company. It wasn't unusual to find two or three customers sitting around the store eating their lunch or just discussing the day's news.
Honbeck did nothing to discourage this. "Like I told a lady one time. She came in here and told me I would make more money if I took out all those seats and put in shelves in their place. I said, 'Lady, that's the reason they come in here. I make more money off those seats than I ever would from shelves,'" Honbeck said.
Roy Honbeck is gone now. Honbeck's Store has been bought and sold several times over the past few years. The Honbeck Special is gone.
But on a hot day at noon, just when the stomach begins its daily protest, many men and women recall that brown paper bag filled with a cold soda, a bag of chips and a Honbeck Special and let out a nostalgic sigh for a time and a sandwich gone by.
Published by THE DAILY JOURNAL, Flat River, St. Francois Co. MO, Fri. April 24, 1992 in a supplement "Myths...Legends...Tall Tales of St. Francois County and the Ozarks."
of times past fill void for many
HILLS -- There is an empty corner at St. Joe Drive and Lewis Street in
Park Hills, but memories of times past, of sandwiches eaten and good
conversation fill the void for many.
A Flat River legend fell to the back hoe and bulldozer in early January, and as many drive past they recall Roy Honbeck and his store.
Honbeck's Store, the Home of the Honbeck Special, has been closed for more than 15 years and its owner Roy left this world for another in 1988, but the memories live on.
The Honbeck Special was a simple ham and cheese sandwich on plain white bread. It had lettuce and tomato on it and sometimes the bread would stick to the roof of your mouth. So, what was it that made the sandwich so special?
Helen Honbeck, Roy's widow and co-owner of the store said, "It was the care, the love and the time that was put in it that made it so good. Another thing that made the sandwich so good was that Roy was always so happy. Why wouldn't it be good?"
Mrs. Honbeck said she and her husband purchased the store in 1956. "It had been a saloon and they put in grocery items, sporting goods and then a deli. When they bought the store, Roy was contracting with several construction companies and they were telling him that things were getting bad and in the winter there was no work and he just got tired of it and talked to Sherman Eldridge (the man who owned the store and saloon) and we bought the store," Mrs. Honbeck said. "He loved every minute of it.
Roy got into the sandwich trade catering to truck drivers who used to drive along the then Highway 67 in front of the store. Next came the hunters to stockpile for their trips. Later, he said in a 1981 interview, the hunters' wives began buying Honbeck Specials to take home.
Roy had indicated that the sale of his sandwiches became an informal gauge of the economy of the area. He told a reporter that when there was construction going on, at noon the people would be lined up out the door. Sometimes, he said, a guy would come in and buy lunch for a dozen men.
"Roy would run credit for some people who he figured would pay when they got their check -- mostly the elderly people who lived in the area," Mrs. Honbeck said.
"During Christmas one year, I noticed he was putting stuff in a bushel basket. I asked him who ordered it and he told me to 'never mind'. He was so good-hearted. He was making baskets for those in the neighborhood he thought wouldn't have a Christmas dinner."
In an interview with a Daily Journal reporter in 1981, Honbeck said "I always treat people the way I want to be treated. I don't make much money, but I make a lot of friends."
Mrs. Honbeck said her husband was at the store at least 16 hours a day and she had seen him go back to the store after it had closed because someone had called him at home needing something real bad.
There have been many customers come and go over the years, but Mrs. Honbeck said several stick in her mind.
"There was this little barefoot, dirty boy from the neighborhood who used to come into the store. One day Roy watched him go to the freezer and get a chocolate ice-cream bar. He came back the next day and did the same, but this time Roy followed him to his home and asked him, 'Don't you have money to buy an ice cream bar. Next time you tell me and I'll give you one.' That just tickled that little boy to death.
"His family lived in Esther and I remember he rode a bicycle with no tire on the front. He would come in every day and I would fix him a sandwich and give him a soda. I taught him to keep himself clean and he worked in the store moving stock and cleaning up."
Roy Honbeck was a hunter and before long the store became a hangout for other hunters. He had a coffee pot put in the back in the kitchen and the store was never empty. Hunters sat around swapping stories when they were not out pursuing their pastime. It was not uncommon to see a handful of men sitting in the store eating their lunch or just discussing the news. It was something Roy never discouraged.
He said in an earlier interview, "Like I told a lady one time. She came in here and told me I would make more money if I took out all those seats and put in shelves in their place. I said, 'Lady that's the reason they come in here. I make more money off those seats than I ever would from shelves.'"
The family doesn't remember any sad things associated with the store except when they realized that Roy couldn't run it any more. Then finally the sale where they sold off the inventory.
Even seeing the store torn down was not really that sad to the family. Mrs. Honbeck said once her husband was gone, as far as she was concerned the store was gone too. "It was never the same again," she said. "It had been remodeled, but finally closed again and there were holes in the walls and the place looked like it was falling apart. I was glad to see it gone. My son called the day they tore the building down and he said that he had finally buried his dad."
Rev. Ken Goff, pastor of the Free Will Baptist Church, in his eulogy titled "The Passing of a Legend" said, The man of Definition, Mr. Webster, says of the word 'legend' it is a collection of stories about an admirable person.
"I suppose the name, Roy Honbeck, would deserve a place in the archives of this small community, that Mr. Roy called home, as truly one of the most outstanding men in its history
"For it was by his 'tact' and by his 'wit', he had the unique ability to weave his way into the very core and fiber of the lives he came in contact with."