Once upon a time I didn't like Joe LeGrand. It was 3rd grade. I was in the Epiphany Toppers Drum and Bugle Corps, and Joe was a bugler who stood right in front of me. He kept turning around and giving me dirty looks. So I decided right then and there that I didn't like him.
Joe was a year ahead of me in school. While our lives intersected a lot, we weren't really close. We ran in different circles in grade school and high school.
But he started working at Binder's Market in St. Louis Hills, and my mom and dad went in there a lot, so I ran into him now and then. Those encounters--about 1989--were confusing. He'd smile when he recognized me--like he'd been waiting for me to walk in because he had a great story to tell me. Just me, no one else.
He usually did.
Joe and his brothers eventually bought Binder's and renamed it LeGrand's. The store didn't accept food stamps, but the LeGrand generosity was unlimited. They donated everything, including their time and their infinite spirit. And their endless smiles.
I like all the LeGrands, but Joe ended up being one of the people I admired most. He gave my nephew a job when my nephew was very young. Taught him more about customer service than all the MBAs graduated in the last 40 years will ever know. Not that Scottie doesn't have a natural talent for sales and getting customers what they want--he does. But Joe LeGrand exposed that talent and helped teach Scottie how to let it shine. And Scottie wasn't the only student of Joe LeGrand's customer service school.
LeGrand's served simply the best sandwiches, brats, barbecue, and meats in South St. Louis for 30 years. And no one ever went in and out of LeGrand's without feeling they'd just spent time with good friends. Here's what Joe told Feast Magazine about knowing his customers:
“We know ‘em by name,” LeGrand says with conviction. “When they hit the door, we’re making their sandwich. I have customers who come in and we change the radio station. I’ll put on some Dean Martin. We know these customers that well.”
Yeah. Hear that, BoA? (Is the Deano for Scottie?)
Joe LeGrand passed away last week. He was only 52--one year older than me.
Joe's death leaves a big hole in this world, especially in South St. Louis. We can take some solace in the fact that Joe taught a lot of young people how to serve the public, how to give more to customers than customers expected for their dollar, and how to smile no matter how bad you hurt.
And he taught me a lesson I need to learn over and over again: when you decide you don't like someone, you're probably wrong.
I was wrong in 3rd grade. Joe LeGrand was a stand-up man who would change the world for many people.
Eternal rest grant unto him, Lord, and let the the perpetual light shine upon him.
How the chippies will miss him.
Who is going to replace LeGrand at the market? "Nobody is going to replace him. We're still trying to decide what is going to happen," said Perry.
Instead of flowers, the family asked that memorial donations be made in LeGrand's name to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. We also suggest you have a great sandwich to honor him. His favorite was the "LeGrand Special" -- roast beef, turkey, corned beef, cheddar, lettuce and tomato.