As one of St. Louis’ oldest restaurants, Kemoll’s is a tradition not only for the family that runs it, but for countless other local families, as well. “We have some families who have been celebrating Christmas Eve at Kemoll’s for 50 years,” says fourth-generation owner Mark Cusumano. “They first came in here when they were little babies, and now they’re adults in their 50s, and they still celebrate here.”
The staff, too, has become like family, with at least six employees who have been working at the restaurant for 30 years or longer, Cusumano notes. He himself grew up working in the restaurant alongside his siblings, and took the helm in 1980. His mother, Mary Grace Cusumano, still comes to work every day. “We’ve lasted for nearly 90 years by doing what Mrs. Kemoll told us to do, which is to stick to the basics: Make good food and give attention to your customers, and that’s basically it,” he says. “It sounds really simple, but to execute it night after night for 87 years isn’t as easy as people think. There are so many people who open a restaurant because they’ve eaten at a number of restaurants, so they think it’s easy to just hire waiters and cooks, but there’s more to it than that.”
Originally opened in 1927 by Mr. and Mrs. Joe Kemoll at the corner of North Grand Boulevard and Penrose Street as a candy and sandwich shop, the restaurant evolved into a gourmet eatery in the 1970s and moved to Metropolitan Square in 1990, Cusumano says. Kemoll’s now occupies the 40th floor of Metropolitan Square, with its Top of the Met banquet facility on the 42nd floor. The venue, capable of hosting up to 250 guests, sits at the same height as The Gateway Arch, offering unmatched panoramic views of the riverfront and the city from the top floor of St. Louis’ tallest building.
The restaurant still features many of the classic recipes passed down by Mrs. Kemoll—Cusumano recalls the cheese bread from his childhood, which is still made the same way it was 87 years ago—but also continues to keep its menu fresh with additions by executive chef Don Tadlock, who joined the team five years ago. “He’s from St. Louis, and he’s a really talented guy,” Cusumano says. “His style is very eclectic. He’s well-versed in not only Italian, but also French, and sometimes even creates Asian-inspired menu items.”
And while guests at Kemoll’s receive a top-tier gourmet dining experience, Cusumano also hopes they feel like they’re at home. “The service is very comfortable and friendly; it’s not overbearing,” he says. “A lot of places come and go, but we basically do what Mrs. Kemoll did 90 years ago, and that’s what people in St. Louis like. That’s why we’ve been around longer than pretty much anybody.”