St. Paul deli owner ready to follow new calling

  • Updated: May 14, 2011 - 10:14 PM

With an Ethiopian orphan on the way, a St. Paul deli owner is hanging up his apron.

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Jon Greer is selling his Acme Deli in St. Paul after 18 years to stay home with his newest daughter, an adoptee from an Ethiopian orphanage.

Photo: Curt Brown, Star Tribune

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Jon Greer isn't the boastful sort. When he says he's on a first-name basis with most of the customers who stop by his little Acme Deli in St. Paul, he means it. Heck, he even married one of them.

About 20 years ago, Nancy Roff was delivering mail along her Summit Avenue postal route. She'd occasionally stop for a sandwich at Uncle Matt's Deli -- Acme's precursor on Grand Avenue. Greer took his eye off the slicer long enough to take notice.

"I started tracking her and leaving Post-it Notes on her post office truck, asking her out," he says.

Now 18 years later, Greer is saying "bye-bye" to corned beef on rye. He's hanging up his apron and selling the delicatessen for family pursuits.

Four years ago, John and Nancy adopted their daughter, Ruby, from a Chinese orphanage. Next month, they'll head to Ethiopia, where daughter No. 2, 11-month-old Meseret, awaits the final paperwork before joining the family in its St. Paul home. They live closer than two blocks from Acme Deli's perch on the southwest corner of St. Clair Avenue and Brimhall Street.

"I loved being able to walk to work for the last 18 years," Greer says. "But I'm excited for this next chapter and can't wait to be home with the girls."

With Nancy working as a mental health social worker and Ruby starting kindergarten in the fall, Greer will celebrate his 50th birthday this August as a stay-at-home dad. Although he's looking for part-time work, his main focus will be Meseret, with whom he and his wife spent a few hours at the orphanage on an earlier trip to Africa last winter.

As they await the final call from the U.S. Embassy and the Children's Home Society, Greer is completing the sale of his deli. Heather Ward, who owned Carmelo's around the corner on Snelling Avenue, will take over as Acme's owner.

Greer grew up in Cranford, N.J., the son of a radiologist father and gubernatorial aide lawyer mom. He came to St. Paul in 1980 to attend Macalester College.

"No, I didn't major in deli, and I never thought I'd own one," he said.

He juggled a bunch of jobs in college, including tropical fish buyer and Green Mill delivery guy. When his friend and boss Matt Ottinger decided to sell Uncle Matt's to join the Peace Corps, Greer jumped in. His grandmother had died and left him some inheritance, so he spent $15,000 for his first deli and an Isuzu pickup.

He sold that deli and tried real estate, making enough money to finance a trip to India, Greece and England. He stepped back in the deli game upon his return and has been making between 170 and 350 sandwiches on weekdays ever since. Until now.

"I always thought it would be nice to try something different," he says. "And my knee is starting to bother me after being on my feet every day."

CURT BROWN

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