When their small confectionary debuted in 1927, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Kemoll could not have imagined their brand-new business would serve five generations of customers, including politicians, sports figures and Broadway stars. “It seemed like almost everybody who played at the Fox Theatre came to Kemoll’s,” says Mark Cusumano, the fourth generation of the Kemoll-Cusumano family to be involved in the restaurant. “You couldn’t even list all the famous people that came in: Charlton Heston, Anthony Quinn, Joe Frazier, Jesse Owens—and the ballplayers came in all the time, because Sportsman’s Park was just a few blocks away.” Asked if he had a particular favorite, Cusumano says Anthony Quinn is a great memory. “I was a young waiter, just coming up, and I had his table. He was the nicest guy!”
Growing up, Cusumano and his brother, Doug, spent a lot of time at the restaurant, sometimes helping with chores. “We’d wash the glasses for the bartenders, that sort of thing. We’ve been here for about 40 years.” The brothers now manage the operations and administrative side of things, and Doug’s son, Adam Cusumano, is one of the chefs.
Kemoll’s moved from its original location on North Grand to the lobby of the One Metropolitan Square building in 1990, and in 2003, the family opened the Top of the Met banquet facility on the 42nd floor. With spectacular views to the east and west, the space has become very popular. “It’s just a gorgeous setting for weddings!” Cusumano says. “But it’s also great for corporate events, bar mitzvahs or any private party. We can accommodate up to 250 guests, including a band and a dance floor.” Kemoll’s also features dinner dances throughout the year at Top of the Met, he adds. In 2009, the restaurant moved from the lobby of the building to the 40th floor, offering diners the same amazing views as the Top of the Met. “Now that the main dining room is on the 40th floor, all the tables are around the window, with views of the Arch and riverfront,” Cusumano explains. “Honestly, it’s the romance capital of the world! So many couples get engaged here, have their wedding at Top of the Met, and then come back every year on their anniversary. We just had a couple who got married here at Kemoll’s 40 years after the bride’s parents did.”
From the day J. Kemoll’s Café first opened its doors 84 years ago, Cusumano says his grandmother took great pride in perfecting her recipes, using only the best ingredients and testing everything herself. “She introduced dishes to St. Louis that have become quite popular,” Cusumano says. “Including fried artichokes (Kemoll’s signature dish), as well as cannelloni, cheese bread and spaghetti alla carbonara.”
In 2009, the Cusumano family was contacted by a woman who had purchased an old menu at an antique market in Arizona. Thinking it was about 50 to 60 years old, she looked up the Kemoll’s name. “She was very surprised to learn we were still in business,” Cusumano says. The menu featured African lobster tails for $2.75 and a 1-pound T-bone steak for $2.95.
Tradition, if not prices, are unchanged at Kemoll’s. Lobster tails are still on the menu and Kemoll’s patrons can still indulge in that 1-pound steak. Clearly, the fourth and fifth generations have inherited their grandparents’ talent for creating a grand meal.