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Obituary of Mike Karandzieff: Crown Candy co-owner

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 20, 2012 - The Crown Candy Kitchen website admonishes: “Don’t forget to leave room for dessert.” It’s an unnecessary warning: Michael Karandzieff’s malts, shakes and sundaes ensured that visitors were more likely to forget to finish their entrées.  

Mr. Karandzieff, co-owner of Crown Candy Kitchen and a gregarious counter man who developed the magic touch with sweet concoctions over nearly four decades of working in the family business, died Thursday (Oct. 18, 2012) of stomach cancer at his home in Chesterfield. He was 57.

His services will be Monday (Oct. 22) at St. John's Church in Ellisville.

Mr. Karandzieff spent the bulk of his time behind the soda fountain making the ice cream treats and toppings.

In a 2009 St. Louis Post-Dispatch story, he noted that it all begins with “great ice cream and the very best of other ingredients.”

"And you just can't whip it up,” Mr. Karandzieff added. “You have to know how to blend 'em just right."

He did it well enough to get the Crown Sundae recipe featured in Bon Appetit’s September 1999 issue, "The American Century in Food."

“I can’t imagine how many malts he’d made over all these years,” said his brother, Andy. “He made a lot of people happy.”

Heart in the city

Michael Ricky Karandzieff was born Dec. 2, 1954, the oldest of George and Bessie Karandzieff’s three sons. He graduated from Rosary High School, now Trinity Catholic High School, in north St. Louis County in 1974.

He went away to Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau and did not appear to be an entirely serious student.

His father, who had inherited Crown from his father, insisted Mr. Karandzieff return to St. Louis and go to work at the candy store and restaurant full time. He had worked there part-time while in high school.

Mr. Karandzieff found the arrangement entirely to his liking and never left again.

Crown Candy Kitchen has anchored the corner of North 14th Street and St. Louis Avenue in St. Louis – an area now known as Old North St. Louis – since 1913. It was opened there by Mr. Karandzieff’s grandfather Harry Karandzieff and his best friend Pete Jugaloff, both Greek immigrants. Mr. Karandzieff’s father, George, began running the store in the 1950s.

Even as the luster of a once-thriving neighborhood faded, George Karandzieff never considered moving. Neither did Mr. Karandzieff, who took over the business in 1991, sharing ownership with his younger brothers, Andy and Tommy.

“Our father told us we belonged here,” Andy said, “and Mike would say how we belonged on this corner. He loved these old buildings.”

Andy said he learned the meaning of hard work from his father and his big brother.

“Until I was 25 years old, I didn’t have a clue and he was here working his butt off,” Andy said. “I had to step up.”

For 20 years, Mr. Karandzieff lived above the store where Andy now lives. For years, he was first in and last out each day. Like his father and grandfather, he continued the tradition of hiring kids from the neighborhood and welcoming all comers, including a few reputed to be outside the law.

People of all ages and backgrounds, hundreds of them, quickly shared words of solace below the announcement of Mr. Karandzieff’s death on the restaurant’s Facebook page. Some attested to Mr. Karandzieff having treated them like royalty; others waxed nostalgic about the sweet goodies he gave them as children; “great guy!” was a common refrain and one woman said simply, “Crown has been in my life since I was old enough to eat ice cream.”

Some organizations reposted the announcement. Old North St. Louis Restoration Group shared condolences on its website, which read in part:

“Because of Mike’s years of hard work and commitment - following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and working alongside his brothers and generations of other dedicated employees – thousands of visitors have found their way into Old North to get a taste of Crown’s legendary BLTs, malts, sundaes, and candies.

“The neighborhood has lost one of its unique and irreplaceable characters. The next time you’re in Crown Candy, be sure to raise your chocolate banana shake in tribute and thanks to Mike.”

All hands on deck

Third- and fourth-generation Karandzieffs, including wives, work at Crown, along with young people who keep the music fresh in the big Wurlitzer reproduction jukebox (the little jukeboxes on the tables have been merely for show since the ‘60s). There are a few employees whose tenures span decades.

During a college break, Mr. Karandzieff met Gregory Shepard, his future best friend and best man.

Shepard, a former St. Louis city police officer, worked at Crown, too, during off-duty time and since retiring.

Many recent Saturdays found him bussing tables, making sandwiches and doing dishes. It was his day to take Mr. Karandzieff into the store during his illness.

“The store,” Shepard said, “was his life.”

The two recently spent time at one of their favorite places, Rockbridge Rainbow Trout and Game Ranch in western Missouri. They fished as always, with a minor adjustment to accommodate Mr. Karandzieff’s declining health: Shepard placed a folding camp chair at the edge of the well-stocked spring.

“Michael caught 15 to 17 fish,” Shepard recalled tearfully. “He had a smile on his face like a Cheshire cat.”

‘Everybody knew him’

“Mike was a big teddy bear,” said his brother, Andy. “He was a bit gruff behind the counter but he knew how to make people feel good.

“He knew everybody and everybody – and I do mean everybody – knew him.”

Mr. Karandzieff was preceded in death by his father.

In addition to his brother Andy (Sherrie) Karandzieff, Mr. Karandzieff’s survivors include his mother, Bessie, of North County; his wife, Nancy, a former teacher, and their daughters, Michaela, a freshman at Lindenwood University, and Emily, a senior at Parkway West High School; and his youngest brother, Tommy, of north St. Louis County.

Visitation will befrom 3 to 8 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 21, at Buchholz Mortuary West, 2211 Clarkson Road at Wilson Road. Additional visitation will be from 10 a.m. to the start of service at 11 a.m. on Monday at St John's Church, 15800 Manchester Road in Ellisville. There will be a funeral procession past Crown Candy Kitchen to the crematorium at Memorial Park Cemetery at I-70 and Lucas and Hunt roads.

Memorials would be appreciated to the American Cancer Society, P.O. Box 22718, Oklahoma City, OK 73123-1718 (print form: http://www.cancer.org/involved/morewaystogive/donate-by-mail-or-phone); Siteman Cancer Center, Washington University, Campus Box 1204, 7425 Forsyth Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63105-2161, or Stand Up To Cancer, File 1224, 1801 W. Olympic Boulevard, Pasadena, CA 91199-1224.

Crown Candy Kitchen will be closed on Sunday, (Oct. 21) and Monday (Oct. 22).

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