How St. Louis' Sprague's Delicatessen Made History

If you're a New Yorker, there's a chance you think of "Baconeggandcheese!" as a single word and consider breakfast sandwich recipes a dietary staple. If you know or love a New Yorker, be patient with them: There's a reason they take pride in shouting orders across the deli counter. Not only are delis super fast and convenient (and found on basically every street corner), delis are the cultural bread and butter of the city. No pun intended.

According to Grub Street, New York City is home to around 8,000 delis. NYC's population clocked in at a record high of 8,804,190 in 2020 (via, so that makes for about 1,100 people per deli; if every resident ordered a bacon egg and cheese, delis would need to crank out at least one sandwich per minute during business hours. As of 2021, the entire state of Missouri has a population of just over 6 million people, according to USA Facts. So, what's the connection between Missouri and delis in New York City? We're glad you asked. Here's how Sprague's Delicatessen made history.

The first official deli

Merriam-Webster explains deli is short for "delicatessen" and comes from the German word "delicatesse" meaning "delicacy." The term first started appearing in the English language in the 1880s, around the time American delis began to appear throughout New York City (via Nick's of Clinton). In 1884, Missouri's Sprague's Delicatessen was the first establishment in America to actually use the word "deli" to describe itself.

Sprague's placed an ad in a local newspaper that read, "What is 'Delicatessen'?'" and promised customers that one visit would merely be the first of many to come (per Even though Sprague's Delicatessen shuttered its doors in 1891 (according to the database platform Open Corporates), many nationwide delis followed in its footsteps. Untapped: New York credits Jewish-German immigrants for expanding the New York deli scene in the late 1800s. Even the famous sandwiches from Katz's Deli were first served up by newly-immigrated brothers. By the 1930s, notes Nick's of Clinton, New York City was home to around 1,500 delis. And to think it all originated in St. Louis.