From innovative education and world-class restaurants to one-of-a-kind gift shops, St. Louis is home to a broad range of successful companies. Ladue News congratulates all of the businesses celebrating milestone anniversaries, and wishes them many, many more.
The Wilson School, 100 years
For the last 100 years, The Wilson School has blazed new trails in education.
The school started when a group of Central West End families approached popular teacher Mabel Wilson, asking her to start an early childhood center. Originally, the school only taught through the second grade, but has since expanded to teach children ages 3 through sixth grade. Current headmaster Thad Falkner says the school has continually been a leader in education, by being one of the first schools in the area to have a student council and offer foreign language and after school care.
“We’re both an innovative and classic school,” Falkner says. “We’re a school that emphasizes rigor and character, but we also try to provide an experience that captures project-based learning, and engage students with technology—not merely entertain them with it.”
The school recently has added an innovation room, a 5,000-square-foot area that offers versatility and technology. One of the biggest draws of the innovation room is a 7.5-feet-by-21-feet video wall comprised of 18 monitors. The monitors can display as one, or as 18 individual images. Students can use the space to perform a play, make a Skype call to a school across the world, or participate in hands-on projects.
Falkner says The Wilson School will continue to provide quality education by teaching students to think globally. “We won’t lose sight of foundations that will always be there, but we have a keen awareness of the global aspect. We want our students to work well with the whole world, not just people in the neighborhood.”
Elleard Heffern, 100 years
For high-quality diamonds, pearls and jewelry, many of St. Louis’ elite have trusted family-owned Elleard Heffern for a century.
The company actually began as Heffern-Neuhoff Jewelers, the collaboration of George Neuhoff, Jr. and Samuel Heffern. Samuel’s son, Elleard, took over leadership, before passing it on to his son, and current company president Kit, who says great service, expert opinion and integrity have kept the store alive for 100 years.
The changes in society and technology have greatly impacted the store. Heffern says that in the early days of the company, most customers were men shopping alone for their wives, or with future mothers-in-law to pick out engagement rings. Today, many women buy for themselves, or come in to create wish lists for their husbands or boyfriends to choose from. Customers also can shop online, where they can find jewelry from around the country without leaving the comforts of home.
“We’ve always loved jewelry, but it’s always about the client,” Heffern says. “That was the theme throughout the decades for us. My father always enjoyed it, as did my grandfather. And it’s continued.”
Giovanni’s on the Hill, 40 years
Giovanni Gabriele has created a recipe for success: One part passion, one part top-notch ingredients and one part family. Add a dash of celebrity fans and a dollop of fresh ricotta cheese, and serve piping hot to hungry St. Louisans.
Owner Giovanni Gabriele says his restaurant uses the best ingredients to make the best Italian cuisine around. Dishes like cannelloni amalfitana and veal saltimbocca alla Giovanni’s have impressed locals and world leaders alike. In 1981, when White House staffers wanted a “taste of America” for Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, they invited Gabriele to come to Washington D.C. to serve his famous Italian fare. Nine years ago, when Oprah Winfrey stopped in for dinner, Gabriele created Pappardelle alla Bella Oprah in her honor. Winfrey loved the dish, and called the next day to invite Gabriele to cook the dish on her show. Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, as well as Frank Sinatra, Yogi Berra and Paul McCartney also have dined at Giovanni’s.
The restaurant changes every day, Gabriele says, with each new dish he creates. “Creating new dishes is my hobby. I love doing something new to present to my customers. I do everything I can to make my customers happy and enjoy the food.”
In February, Gabriele will open a new restaurant in the Colonial Marketplace in Ladue, called Giovanni’s Kitchen From the Hill. The restaurant will feature similar items as the original location, Gabriele says, but at a lower price point, so that more people can enjoy his world-famous Italian cuisine.
Down by the Station, 30 years
Shoppers flock to Down By the Station for personal service, greeting cards and gifts galore.
Current co-owner Peggy Heffner says that the store started when a group of moms were standing in a school hallway waiting for their children. One of them started talking about opening a business, and asked the others if they wanted to join. Heffner became a frequent customer at the store; and soon after, started working there part-time. When the original owners decided to retire, Heffner and another worker, Anne Brennan, bought the shop. What started as a one-room store has expanded to five, taking over a new storefront every few years.
Shoppers flock to the store for jewelry, toys, Vera Bradley items, and a big selection of greeting cards. Heffner says the store has had customers who have been shopping since day one, and keep coming back for the great selection and service.
“One of the reasons the owners didn’t want to retire was because Down by the Station is a destination shopping experience. It’s part of downtown Kirkwood, it’s engrained in it. We want that to continue. How it’s going to happen, I don’t know, but I think it will be here for a long time.”
The Gatesworth, 25 years
As the need for senior living grows, The Gatesworth continues to offer luxury, resort-like living for retirees.
Since opening in 1988, The Gatesworth has expanded greatly, adding extended care, assisted living and memory care. Twenty-five years ago, it offered 220 independent-living apartments. Today, it has 298 independent-living apartments, 72 skilled-nursing units and 45 assisted-living units. But growth hasn’t been in size only—The Gatesworth prides itself on responding to residents’ needs. When a resident was afraid to walk her dog because it was icy outside, The Gatesworth added dog-walking to its concierge services. A relocation specialist goes to the homes of new residents to help them decide what to bring and how they’ll arrange furniture, and even creates a drawing of what their new apartment will look like. The company also employs round-the-clock doormen, and owns six vehicles to chauffer residents.
“To residents, we say, The answer is ‘yes.’ What is the question? Whatever they want, we figure out how to take care of them,” says Bob Leonard, director of operations.
Though St. Louis has many more options for retirement living now than it did two-and-a-half decades ago, Leonard says he’s proud that The Gatesworth remains a top choice among seniors and their families. “People who moved in 25 years ago, we have their sons and daughters who live here now, and even some grandchildren of the original residents. We’re happy that we’re able to keep our edge and still remain at a high occupancy level.”
Companion, 20 years
Companion owner Josh Allen is on a quest for the perfect loaf of bread.
It’s not easy, he says. With every change in temperature or humidity—or even his mood—the bread changes. But still, Allen soldiers on.
When he started Companion 20 years ago, Allen had no formal training. Growing up, he was fascinated by his sister’s Easy Bake Oven; after college, he spent time out West learning how to bake. In 1993, Companion baked only six items. Today, it offers more than 300. Allen continues to find ways in which the company can improve, whether through equipment, bakers or products.
“I believe St. Louis is the most underappreciated food town in the country,” Allen says. “We’ve had the luxury of growing up at the same time as the scene has grown up. We have an educated dining community, and talented and well-respected chefs. It’s been beneficial for us.”
Allen says he hopes Companion will continue to grow—with limits. “We don’t want to expand much bigger than we can drive to see our customers,” he says. “But we do want to continue to grow. Every day, we’re just thankful for St. Louis and the support we get from the community.”
Other local companies celebrating anniversaries in 2013 include:
Crown Candy Kitchen, 100 years
Mavrakos Chocolates, 100 years
Prairie Farms, 75 years
Jewish Light, 50 years
Sportsprint, 40 years
Fish Window Cleaning, 35 years
Archer Wealth Management, 30 years
Expressions Furniture, 25 years
Star Clipper, 25 years
Citizen Kane’s, 20 years
Manchester West Veterinary Hospital, 20 years
Laurie Solet, 10 years
Drunken Fish, 10 years
Jule Lingerie & Loungewear, 10 years
Fountain on Locust, 5 years