September 23, 2018
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Let’s Do Lunch

Emge’s Deli and Ice Cream has been a Main Street staple for two decades
Emge’s Deli owner Jan Howell stands with her granddaughter, and employee, Renae Slater.

Jan Howell knows Martin’s breakfast order by heart.

The customer from Henderson, Kentucky, “gets three egg whites, a slice of bacon crumbled into it, and that’s it,” says Howell, owner of Emge’s Deli and Ice Cream, which is located at 206 Main Street.

What started out in 1932 as a wholesale meat shop owned by Victor Emge, in an alley off Main Street, serving mostly barge traffic, has morphed into a walkway staple. In 1974, Howell and her late husband Tom, owners of Potato Processors on Virginia Street, decided to purchase the wholesale meat shop so Emge could retire, and moved it to the walkway 20 years ago.

“We’ve always been in the food business,” says Howell. “Once you get into it, it’s in your blood. And everybody likes to eat.”

Emge’s opens at 7:30 a.m. each weekday for breakfast, with Howell’s son Rick Slater arriving at 6 a.m. or earlier to start kitchen prep work. After graduating from Central High School, he joined the U.S. Army, and then worked in the industrial insulation business for three years, a far cry from the world of fresh vegetables and meat he has worked in for the past 30 years at Emge’s.

As the head cook, he plans the deli’s menu each week, including a different plate lunch each Wednesday. However, the deli’s specialty is its variety of sandwiches and salads.

“I would say weekly we have around 25 to 30 different salads,” says Slater. “There’s American and German potato salad and varieties of coleslaw which include creamy, vinegar, and Oriental coleslaw. The penne pasta, with homemade ranch, bacon, and bell peppers, is a favorite, but from a selling perspective, the broccoli raisin salad may just be the crowd favorite.”

Howell arrives each morning anywhere from 6 to 8 a.m. “Executive privileges,” she says with a smile.

While she doesn’t often cook anymore, she still is active at the deli when help is needed, like separating egg whites for breakfast orders or bagging individual catering lunches. Emge’s Deli has only four regular employees, including Slater’s daughter Renae, and an extra set of hands during the deli’s popular Taco Thursday lunch, which started 10 years ago.

“That’s what’s fun,” says Jan. “I’ll see a recipe and say ‘let’s try it.’ That’s the fun part, the creativity.”

Future plans for Emge’s include a new look, according to Jan. “Let them wonder what it’s going to be,” she jokes. “I could just mean dying my hair.”

For more information about Emge’s Deli and Ice Cream, call 812-422-3026 or visit its Facebook page.

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