C.W. Porubsky’s Deli and Tavern is a fixture in the food lore of Topeka and Kansas. Nationally and internationally know for its chili, hot pickles and cold cuts, Porubsky’s resonates throughout the neighborhood of “Little Russia” in Topeka. Anyone who has the time to make the trip across the tracks into this timeless tavern will be consumed and satisfied by the sights and scents of true comfort food.
Porubsky’s has been featured in numerous newspaper articles and television spots, been covered in several regional magazines and has appeared nationally in Gourmet magazine, many culinary guides and the book Chili Nation. More importantly, C.W. Porubsky’s has survived floods, fires and recessions and is still owned and operated by the family that conceived it.
When dining at Porubsky’s in the small tavern, occupancy 36, you’re as likely to sit beside a railroad switchman as you are a state senator. Over its sixty years in business, it has been a meeting place of families and friends, political and birthday parties. It’s a place that makes it easy to get lost in atmosphere and aromas, where home style food meets a place that actually feels like home.
Major events in the history of Porubsky’s
- 1947 – Charles Porubsky opened for business in the former site of Melchior’s grocery store that had operated for about 25 years at 508 N.E. Sardou Ave. He turned an attached garage at the side of the building into a small dining room and sold sandwiches there.
- 1949 – Porubsky married Lydia Kaberline, daughter of John Kaberline, the man who built the building that housed his business.
- 1951 – Porubsky’s went out of business after the flood of 1951. Friends, family and neighbors helped to repair the store, and it reopened Jan. 1, 1952.
- 1955 – Chili was added to the menu after Charles Porubsky’s mother, Catherine, made a batch of chili for grocery store operators to eat, and a customer, Gas Service Co. executive George Wells, asked to try it. Wells liked it so much, he asked Porubsky to make some to sell. Since, the chili has become “world famous,” garnering national and international fame as one of the best chili recipes in the nation.
- 1967 – Porubsky’s went out of business after a fire. It reopened five months later.
- 1997 – Relatives and friends of Charles and Lydia Porubsky threw a celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of their business. Mayor Joan Wagnon declared April 19 “Porubsky Day” in the City of Topeka.
- 1998 – Charles Porubsky died at age 75, after a battle with cancer.
- 2007 – Porubsky’s was featured in Gourmet Magazine.
- 2008 – Lydia Porubsky died at age 83 of heart disease.
Other information about Porubsky’s (not necessarily in chronological order)
- Porubsky’s was and is a place with a political presence – seven governors have visited since the 1970s, with several being regulars. Countless legislators and local politicians have frequented the store and carried on campaigns and discussions about lawmaking under its roof. It was a place of union meetings and activism.
- Porubsky’s is located on Sardou St. in the North Topeka neighborhood of Little Russia. The Porubsky Family are descendents of the Volga Germans of Russia who settled in that part of town around the turn of the 20th century.
- Porubsky’s was accessible via Sardou Ave. until the 1951 Flood swept away the Sardou Avenue bridge and it was relocated a block North, sending traffic past Porubsky’s. After that, it was accessible by Gordon Street, but visitors had to cross the Union Pacific Railroad Crossing and often were held back from going to or from the store by long waits for trains. In 2001, the Gordon Street crossing was closed, and, in honor of the late Charles Porubsky, Porubsky Drive was added as an off-ramp on the Sardou Avenue Bridge.
Some of the above information is cited from a 2003 Topeka-Capitol Journal Article by Tim Hrenchir, “Chilly means chili”