When Mark Cusumano walks through the dining room of Kemoll’s, he often pauses under a portrait of his grandmother, Doris. Eighty-six years ago, Doris and Joe Kemoll opened a restaurant that would become one of St. Louis’ most renowned fine dining establishments, and Cusumano understands the importance of carrying on his grandparents’ legacy. “Whenever I walk by, I can’t help but think, How am I doing, Grandma?”
Cusumano can rest assured that Doris would approve of Kemoll’s today. In 2012, the restaurant served more customers and did more business than any other year in its history. “My grandmother always said, Stick to the basics. Over the years, the family has been here every day, involved in everything and focused on food, service and atmosphere,” explains Cusumano, who grew up working at the restaurant with his five siblings and has operated Kemoll’s since 1980.
Doris was just 18 years old when J. Kemoll’s Café opened in 1927 at the corner of North Grand Boulevard and Penrose Street. Initially a sandwich and confectionary shop, the business evolved over time, eventually becoming the gourmet Italian establishment it is today. The Kemolls’ son-in-law, Frank Cusumano (Mark’s father), operated the business from 1950 until his son took over; and Doris remained involved until her passing in 1987. In addition, Cusumano’s 85-year-old mother, Mary Grace, comes to the restaurant every morning at 8 a.m. “She helps get us organized and always leaves me a large to-do list,” he remarks.
That dedication and family tradition has helped build the reputation of Kemoll’s. Seventy-five percent of the menu still harkens back to Doris’ original Sicilian recipes perfected through the years, including items like fried artichokes, cannelloni and linguine con vognole. The other 25 percent is tweaked from year to year, with executive chef Don Tadlock developing new dishes.
After 63 years in its original location, Cusumano moved the restaurant to the lobby of One Metropolitan Square downtown in 1990, and opened the Top of the Met banquet facility on the 42nd floor in 2003. Sitting at the same height as the St. Louis Arch, the Top of the Met offers vast views to the east and west, overlooking the riverfront and city. Able to hold up to 300 guests, the facility is a popular wedding reception location, booked every Saturday night from March through November. With longtime banquet chef Dave Kuhm overseeing the dining options, the Top of the Met also plays host to parties and charity fundraisers throughout the year.
In 2009, Kemoll’s moved to the 40th floor of the building. The restaurant also offers six private rooms with expansive views, available for events ranging from business meetings for 12 people up to parties for 170.
With Kemoll’s more successful than ever, Cusumano and his family are focused on continuing to provide an excellent dining experience for St. Louisans and staying true to Doris’ original vision. “I enjoy seeing my grandmother’s dream continue after 86 years,” Cusumano explains. “I hope she would be proud of the restaurant today.”