One of London’s oldest sandwich shops, open since Queen Victoria took the throne and run by the same family

On August 2, 1900, while Queen Victoria was still on the throne, Paul Rothe opened his German delicatessen on Marylebone Lane. Selling groceries and goods to people in west London, they have seen the community through the two world wars, the invention of the internet and the end of the Cold War, become a much-loved grocery store in this day.

His son, Robert, took over the shop in the 1930s and was succeeded by his son, Paul, in the late 1960s. Now 70, Paul continues to work in the shop-turned-café with his son, Stephen, as they serve delicious sandwiches popular with Marylebone locals and office workers, Monday to Saturday.

Sitting with MyLondon, he talked about the history of the shop and of course, their famous sandwiches. “We started out as a German delicatessen. And then because we knew we had to adapt to the changing environment around us, we decided we couldn’t exist when the parking restrictions changed.

“So we decided to focus more on making a living out of the restaurant business and being somewhere someone would like to have lunch,” Paul said.

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Paul started in the shop in the late 60s

Growing up with the family business, Paul has watched the shop transform from a retailer to a food court, heard his father’s war stories, and is now passing on his legacy to his own son.

Once purely a grocer, it’s now a bright communal space, with small gray chairs tucked into cafe tables, cradled by jam jars lining the walls and wooden beams. The neighborhood vibe — other than looking like it’s been preserved in a time capsule — is made even sweeter by a small newsstand for diners.

His father was born above the store and when Paul got married he also moved upstairs. “Now, my son, he lives upstairs. It’s always been part of the job to be upstairs,” says Paul, who sits proudly against a background of jams, honeys and condiments lining the walls of the shop.

These brightly colored shelves of items pay homage to the store’s history as a retail destination. “When I started in the shop in the 1960s. A lady came in and in a very frail voice said to me, ‘The last time I came here was before the First World War.’ And over the decades, this little scenario repeats itself,” Paul says as his son greets an elderly gentleman who comes to lunch.

During both world wars, Paul Rothe & Son remained open, supplying groceries to locals and cooking its own sausages and sausage rolls that Paul speaks of so fondly now. After attending school in Harrow, he would walk into his father’s shop as a teenager and see their “unusual” chef.

“He was the sullenest person I’ve ever known. But we used to do bone-in ham back then, and all the little bits of ham went into the blender and we made our own flesh. sausage meat, we would add onions, fresh parsley and she would use that sausage meat to make sausage rolls and make her own pastry.

“If we go back to my father’s time in the 1950s, we had a lot of German-speaking staff. Of course, my grandmother was German, and at that time we still had a lot of German words on the menu,” explains Paul.

Above Paul’s head is a row of framed photos from the store, with different men and his grandmother featured in each. But despite the camera quality changes, they still stand in front of the same traditional storefront, framing various cans, cans and bottles in its display cases. Following my eyes, Paul said proudly, “The oldest we have is from 1914, the day the First World War was declared, on the little newsagent’s notice board outside the shop there. -low.

A real gem of history on Marlyebone Lane

For the first time in its 120 year history, Paul Rothe & Son has been forced to close during the Covid-19 pandemic. As he shifts his story to the pandemic, I watch the energy drain from his body and disappointment color his normally forceful words: “It made me think of my parents, my father in particular, who exploited the store during World War 2. How they stayed open all the time.

“I mean he worked for Middlesex Hospital as a conscientious objector and they managed to keep the store open all the time. And then Covid came along and we were forced to close. Through no fault of our part, but we couldn’t stay open.”

Although the grocery store was considered an essential store during UK lockdowns, it was too difficult for Paul Rothe & Son to stay open. Paul said sadly, “We weren’t getting even a third of what our revenue would have been in normal times. It’s very unusual to be there with hardly any customers coming in, and of course with perishables, it’s so difficult. operate under these circumstances. »

Now open as usual, Paul is back to reminisce about working with his own son in the store. As Stephen serves a customer behind his counter, his father watches proudly: “It’s very nice. We have a very good relationship, you have to have concessions in a family business.

“My dad was quite assertive, so I always had to be the junior partner, because what he said was the way to go. But we’re not like that, we’re more like give and take.” As his son smiles fondly at his father’s plea for the other side of the deli, Paul adds, “I try to be submissive to his wishes, as he has to continue the business in the future.”

Paul enjoys working alongside his son in the delicatessen

As customers continue to come in and out of the store, cradling fresh sandwiches and hot soups, Paul stops to thank a man who walks into the kitchen with a bag full of groceries. “David does our shopping here,” he explains. “That’s another thing that’s evolved; you can’t get the deliveries you used to because of congestion charges.” Unlike in the 1900s, vehicle access to the store now costs £15 a day, as it is in such a central location – a measure put in place after more than 100 years of opening the grocery store.

“It’s very difficult to run a business like ours in the West End because our suppliers have to pay all these extra charges and that makes them very expensive and prohibits us from using them or they just don’t want to come in. So David goes and buys all our bread for our sandwiches at Waitrose, until we find a baker willing to deliver.”

Waitrose bread or not, Paul Rothe & Son’s sandwiches have become legendary in the city, with Google reviewers calling them ‘to die for’. All custom-made behind the new refrigerated counter that Paul is very proud of – so proud he spoke at length about its features, much to the chagrin of Stephen’s apologetic nods – their sandwiches are made fresh between thick slices of bread for under £5.

The most popular deli choice is something Paul’s dad didn’t even sell in his day: “Everyone seems obsessed with Coronation Chicken and while most things on this counter we make ourselves , all of our chicken mixes we buy and they are as popular as the ones we spend so much love making them.Coronation Chicken is popular and so is pastrami.

Pastrami and pickle sandwich

But Paul’s favorite is something much more traditional: “I would probably like a hot Frankfurt with German mustard and pickled cucumber. We have always done this. , which is a larger, slightly meatier Frankfurt.

“We used to make good bratwurst, not the kind of bratwurst you can get these days. Good bratwurst should be good meat, ground meat with herbs.”

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As a smiling Stephen prepares a sandwich for me, Paul greets customers entering the store – most of whom he knows by name. The proud dad apologizes for not being able to do it himself, as he actually had surgery on his hand after being damaged by the use of a knife for so many years.

But his son certainly isn’t letting the 70-year-old pro down; the sarnie is absolutely fantastic.

Layers of peppery meat lie between slices of Waitrose bread, giving a real hearty boost to supermarket-bought stock. Crispy pickles, spicy mustard and creamy Swiss cheese dress the generous portion to create a comforting, simple and stunning sandwich.

“I like to think these are the best sandwiches around here,” says Paul. And he is absolutely right.

Do you have a favorite hidden restaurant, pub or bar in London that you think we should know about? If so, please email [email protected] or [email protected]

About Octavia A. Dorr

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