St. Louis Jewish Light: Features - Like father, like son...or daughter

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Like father, like son...or daughter

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Posted: Thursday, June 17, 2010 9:17 am

The first part of the Fifth Commandment orders us to "honor thy father." Though it does not continue with instructions to go into business with our fathers, through the ages many a Jewish son or daughter has become part of the family partnership. And why not? Didn't Isaac and Jacob become shepherds, following in the footsteps of patriarch Abraham's example of tending the flock?

In honor of the secular holiday of Father's Day, we offer a modern-day glimpse of St. Louis Jewish family businesses.

Drs. Arnold and Hana Tepper

Though Dr. Arnold Tepper, 66, says he has known "since the age of 5" that he wanted to go into medicine, he came to that conclusion on his own. Growing up in University City, his dad owned a grocery store on Natural Bridge.

Not so with Dr. Hana Tepper, 33. "My dad prepped both my older brother, Micah, and me for this career," she jokes. "When we were little, we spent Sunday mornings making rounds in the hospital with Dad, fetching charts and taking notes for him. Afterwards we would all have breakfast together at McDonald's; that was our family time."

The ploy worked - exceedingly well. Today Micah, 36, is a cardiologist in Atlanta. And Hana, an internist, joined her father's practice at St. Luke's Hospital in 2008, when she finished her training at Emory University, also in Atlanta.

"I joke that there must be a genetic defect in the family," says her proud father, who adds that both his daughter-in-law and son-in-law are physicians as well.

According to Hana, there was never any doubt in her mind that she would ultimately wind up working with her father. "I admire what he does, and I love living in St. Louis," she says. "I've known since I was in med school that I wanted to share an office with him."

When she first began practicing with her dad, she says, it was "so great to see him from a professional perspective." "I asked a lot of questions," she says. Nowadays, she adds, "it's really cool when he asks my opinion as well."

Not that the two-known affectionately by patients and hospital staff as "Daddy Tepper and Baby Tepper"-never have their differences. "We have disagreements about patient care, personnel issues and the like," says Hana, "but for the most part we get along really well."

And though they share the same office space at St. Luke's, the two keep very different schedules. While Hana works there every weekday except Wednesday, her dad, who in addition to internal medicine specializes in pulmonary and geriatric medicine, is often seeing patients in nursing homes or at another office in Illinois.

Their close relationship exists outside the office as well. Though each has their own interests-Arnold is a serious stamp collector, a loyal St. Louis Cardinals fan and a fine amateur photographer, among other things, while Hana is a huge fitness buff and enthusiastic traveler-they live in close proximity and often meet at the neighborhood dog park (where Arnold's wheaten terrier and Hana's two cocker spaniels have a more fractious connection).

It's fair to say that neither Drs. Tepper take their family partnership for granted, either. "How often can you call your partner at 11 p.m. and say, ‘Dad, I don't feel very well tonight; would you take call for me?' and know that he sincerely doesn't mind?" asks Hana.

Adds Arnold, "This has always been a long-standing dream of mine-the passing on of my passion for medicine to another generation."

Protzel's Delicatessen

Max Protzel, 30, hasn't just inherited a family business; since 2005 he's been at the helm of a treasured St. Louis institution, a place people frequent not just for the kishke but also for the kitsch - the signs that read "Take a Pickled Tomato To Lunch" and "Promise Her Anything But Slipper a Kipper," the family photos of weddings and bar mitzvahs that line the walls, the T-shirts, mugs and toy trucks with the famous deli's logo.

In fact, the 900-square-foot store at 7608 Wydown Blvd., opened in 1954 by Max's grandparents, Bob and Evelyn Protzel, is, by Max's father Alan Protzel's estimation, one of the oldest surviving businesses in Clayton. "We're serving fifth-generation family customers," says Alan, 57, who grew up helping out in the store on weekends and never stopped, despite a full-time career in the financial services industry.

These days, though Alan still does the store's stock work - ordering the more than 100 novelty mustards for sale here, displaying the specialty potato chips and fruit preserves on shelves, slicing the lox and kibitzing with the weekend crowd - it's Max who puts in 60 hours each week, overseeing the kitchen production of homemade chopped liver, matzo ball soup, egg salad, brisket, knishes, tongue, coconut macaroons and, of course, the famous, top-secret recipe corned beef.

Though Max majored in marketing at University of Missouri-St. Louis and dabbled with a start-up computer business after graduation, when the opportunity to take over the deli presented itself five years ago, he took it at his father's urging.

"He told me I wouldn't regret it, and he was right," says Max. "The atmosphere here can't be replicated. We have staff like Nick Parchman, who has been helping in the kitchen since 1969, and clients who are so loyal that nothing keeps them away-most recently, neither the recession nor the Highway 40 closing."

To be sure, Max has made some improvements to Protzel's-the addition of a fax line and credit card machines, for example. And thanks to his sister, Erica, 28, who works part-time at the store now, Protzel's has expanded to include a catering business that is supplying foodstuffs for seders, bar mitzvahs, bridal showers and more.

Still, Max is respectful of Protzel's time-honored uniqueness, which has contributed to its inclusion in books like "America's Best Delis," and which lends itself to passionate customer satisfaction.

"We have one former customer who moved away but flies his private plane here to load up on corned beef and tzitzel rye bread," he says. "It's also not uncommon for people to pay $75 in overnight shipping to send $25 worth of kreplach and matzo ball soup across country."

For Alan, the greatest joy of working at the deli these days, he says, is "the chance to be with my kids." Soon, there'll be another reason - his first grandchild, due to be born in November to Max and his wife, Rachel, and destined to be spoiled rotten at the store.

"We're thinking of adding a bib to our clothing line," Alan laughs. "We're still debating the slogan-maybe ‘Catcher of the Rye'?"

Schechter Law Firm, PC

Though the Clayton-based Schechter Law Firm has staked its reputation on settling domestic relations disputes, its partners - father Ted Schechter, 75, sons Jeffrey Schechter, 50, and Michael Schechter, 46 - get along famously well.

"We've had a few disagreements over the years, but generally it's wonderful working together," says Jeff.

Agrees Mike: "It's really special to be able to kick ideas around and go to lunch with some of the people you care about most in life."

Ted Schechter wasn't envisioning a future family business when he graduated from Washington University's School of Law in 1958. "I had grown up reading about Clarence Darrow," he recalls. "I thought I wanted to be in criminal law."

He opened a general practice and did do his share of criminal law before gravitating to issues like divorce, division of marital assets and child custody. And growing up, his four sons often heard him debating points of law over the dinner table.

"I probably would not have gravitated to law if my father hadn't been an attorney," says Jeff. "He was my knowledge base."

After graduating from W.U.'s law school in 1985, Jeff spent a year at Touche Ross & Co., then joined his father's firm. "I always intended to practice with Dad," he says. "To be able to learn from a real expert who is also someone you love and respect is truly a gift."

Mike admits his career path meandered a bit more before settling on law. He studied art history at Washington University and spent a few years in the advertising world before earning his J.D. in 1991 from Wash U. and joining the firm as well. "The ad business was too fickle for me," he says. "This was a good, gradual transition - I worked for Dad while I was in law school, clerking and book keeping."

As for Ted, having two of his sons sharing office space with him is a real plus, personally and well as professionally. "At my age, very few of my contemporaries get to see their grown children on a daily basis," he points out. (Ted's eldest son, Mark, 53, is a computer consultant in St. Louis; his youngest, Rick, 44, is a rabbi in Glendale, Calif. Ted also has a teen-aged daughter, Kate.)

As for family time spent together outside the office, all three Schechters - all seemingly workaholics - just laugh. "We had a great time with the whole family in Jamaica during a trip in 2000," they recall. "But we basically have no time outside the office. We're here, together, seven days a week."


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