Killington Deli and Marketplace changes hands after 39 years

By Polly Mikula

After 39 years working seven days a week all year long, Cliff Koch and family are ready to pass the torch of the popular Killington Deli & Marketplace on to the next family. The business officially sold to the Zelken family, Monday, April 1, 2024.

Cliff and his wife Sally ran the business with help from their four daughters: Nancy and triplets Molly, Annie, and Jennifer. Nancy was formerly the general manager.

“My parents are ready for retirement,” said Nancy, who currently lives in Boston. “Dad still works seven days a week… and my sisters and I are all on different career paths at this point in time,” she added.

“We want to see it continue to grow with the times,” Nancy said, adding, “The Zelken family comes from a 4th generation family business and shares the same values of the tradition.”

Peter Zelken and his wife, Emma, have three boys, aged 7, 9 and 11.

Courtesy the Koch family
The Killington Deli & Marketplace has been family-owned and operated since 1985 when Cliff and Sally Koch took over operations from a 1940s Texaco gas station and garage. Cliff and Sally ran the business together until their first daughter, Nancy, was born in 1990, followed by triplets born in 1993. The Kochs ran it under a lease agreement with Bernie Rome until 2004 when they bought the complex plus the adjacent post office building at a bank auction. Pictured above is the current building on Route 4 in Killington with photos (below) of what it looked like prior.

“I grew up pumping gas, working the registers and stocking shelves at our family’s stores, and our boys are already asking when they can start,” said Peter Zelkens.

“We are so happy to welcome Peter and his family into the Deli and to the community,” said Cliff Koch. “They have young children just like Sally and I did when we started the business, so it feels like a great fit. We all met as families the other day and shared family business memories. Knowing that they will have the opportunity to build happy memories in the store, gives us comfort and pride in what we built over almost 40 years.”

“The sale is currently [among] the highest priced property sale (commercial or residential) ever recorded in the town of Killington besides the sale of Killington Mountain Resort in 2007,” said Marni Rieger, broker of KW Vermont Luxury Killington (Peak Property Group) who brokered the deal along with her sales associate Will Spanos.

“I want to wish a huge heartfelt congratulations to the Koch family and the Zelken family on this iconic Killington sale,” said Rieger. “I’m honored that the Koch family selected and entrusted Will and I to list, market and sell their family business and real estate. We had well qualified prospective buyers inquire about the property… But the mission was to find the ‘right buyer’ to continue the Koch’s legacy they worked so hard to create.”

Courtesy the Koch family
Top: The Koch family and the Zelken family smile together  outside the Deli & Marketplace. One family passing the business on to the next! The Koch kids: Nancy, 34, and Annie, Jenny, and Molly (triplets), 31, who grew up at the deli, are excited to watch the Zelken kids:  aged 7, 9 and 11 enjoy it.
Bottom left (l-r): Ken Lee, Claire Mercier, Peter Metzler and Alan Jeffery frequently met in the “coffee corner” at the deli.
Bottom right:  Sally serves up multiple lunch bowl for hungry patrons many decades ago.

Nancy concurred, adding, “We had a number of people approach us in the last few years, but we really wanted it to be someone we were excited to pass it on to; another family. We’re confident it’ll be in good hands. It’s not easy to hand ‘Cliff’s’ off to someone else, but we want the community to know that we chose the Zelkens because we know they will keep our long-standing traditions alive.”

The Zelken family met listing agent Marni Rieger when purchasing a home in Plymouth in 2019. When they decided to move from Plymouth to Killington in 2024, Rieger also had the listing for the Killington Deli. The timing was “kismet” as the Zelkens recently sold their fourth generation family business, Mystic Oil Company. This opportunity was right up their alley.

Courtesy the Koch family
Sally and Cliff won first place for costumes at the Wobbly Barn Halloween Party 1987 and this photo was subsequently published in the Mountain Times Nov. 5. Cliff was dressed as a roast beef sandwich, and he handed out mayo and mustard packets to the crowd.

“We were very familiar with this location as long-time customers. It is a staple, and we are honored to have the opportunity to preserve its character while continuing to serve this amazing community,” said Peter Zelken, adding that the Kochs have done such a great job for generations that customers can expect to see what they’re used to, with the same familiar faces.

The Kochs and Zelken immediately “just hit it off’,” Rieger added. “The transaction had many moving parts and we all worked together to get to the goal of closing. This has been a very special happy ending sale for both parties.”

Cliff and Sally plan to stay in Killington and enjoy their retirement.

“We are so excited to continue as residents of Killington and enjoy our friends and family. Cliff is waiting for the snow to melt so he can be the first on the driving range at Green Mountain National,” said Sally.

“My dad plans on keeping his memberships at Green Mountain National Golf Course and the Rutland Country Club,” Nancy said, adding “the best part about being in Killington is that it’s home for all of us.”

Courtesy Nancy Koch
Molly Koch’s engagement at Killington Peak with sisters.

It’s also a central location for her and her sisters. She and Jennifer live in the Boston area while Annie and Molly live in the Burlington area. “It’s where we’re going to spend holidays and continue to call it “home”. We love Killington,” Nancy said.

A look back

Before moving to Vermont, Cliff and Sally Koch lived in New Jersey where they both grew up. Cliff owned a bar and restaurant in Ridgewood, New Jersey called The Cellar Door, where he met Sally.

Sally worked in the textile industry in Manhattan. In 1985, they married and moved to Killington “to get out of the hustle and bustle,” Nancy explained. “They knew they wanted to raise a family in Vermont, both my parents were big skiers at the time, and they wanted us to grow up skiing”.

Cliff and Sally originally leased the deli and gas station from Bernie Rome. At the time it was a full-service gas station, originally established in the 1940s, with just a small deli. Over the years, the Koch family grew it into full-service deli and convenient market and in 1997 added the state liquor outlet — doubling its original size — plus have updated and maintained the gas station.

They bought the deli and post office buildings at bankruptcy auction from Bernie Rome in 2004.

“It’s now really four businesses in one,” Nancy said, “Deli, marketplace, gas station and liquor outlet.”

The 802 Spirits Vermont State Liquor Outlet supplies nearly all the alcohol to bars and restaurants in Killington. “We have a big warehouse behind the liquor store that caters to those businesses, which has allowed us to build many close relationships with other local business owners over the years,” said Nancy.

The liquor store is one of 80 in the state. The Killington outlet is consistently among the top in volume sold.

Local charm

The deli has always been a popular local hangout.

Local golf pro Alan Jeffery and former selectmen Ken Lee and Peter Metzler among others (see photo above) would regularly meet in the corner of the Deli in the morning for doughnuts and coffee, Nancy remembered.

The deli’s sandwiches are named after local establishments, with offerings like the McGrath’s Irish Pub (corned beef or pastrami with melted Swiss, homemade coleslaw, and Russian dressing), The Foundry Gobbler (oven roasted turkey salad with homemade stuffing and cranberry sauce) and the Moguls (homemade meatloaf with melted American cheese, lettuce, onions, pickles, and Russian dressing), just to name a few!

Locals and visitors alike have their go-to deli sandwich. Any changes to the menu were always met with many vocalized opinions, Nancy said laughing. “Change is hard for all people, and people like what they like,” she said, adding that this concept is something her family kept in mind when selecting the Zelkens as the buyer.

While she expects (and hopes for) upgrades, she is glad they plan to carry the torch by continuing to offer what people have come to rely on.

More than anything, the Koch family wants the community to know that they’re  “confident that the Zelkens are the right fit for the store and the community,” and they are “excited to see the business remain successful under their ownership while they create new memories for their family,” Nancy summarized on behalf of her family.

The Zelkens, like the Kochs, are a serious snowboarding family.

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