The number 1111 has some significant meanings—just Google it and you’ll find all sorts of websites devoted to exploring what’s known as the ‘1111 phenomenon.’
However, to restaurant-lovers in St. Louis, the number 1111 is the address and street number on Mississippi Avenue for one of the most well-known dining spots in town: 1111 Mississippi.
Paul and Wendy Hamilton didn’t know anything about the 1111 phenomenon when they decided to go into the restaurant business for themselves 11 years ago—and it definitely had nothing to do with the naming of the restaurant they would house in a dilapidated old shoe factory just off Lafayette Square.
The couple met briefly when they both worked on board a cruise ship for the St. Louis-based Clipper Cruise Lines. She’s from Affton; he’s from Pennsylvania. After her tour of duty on board the ship ended in 1992, Wendy moved back home to Missouri to finish college, and probably never expected to see Paul again. But not long after returning home, Paul was transferred to Clipper’s Clayton headquarters and the two reconnected. In 1995, they got married.
After spending several years working on their careers, the couple set their sights on opening a restaurant. Some pre-opening buzz in the press led to an incredibly successful launch. “We were busy right off the bat,” Paul recalls. “We would serve 500 people a day in a 140-seat restaurant.”
Over the next few months, the Hamiltons would start to hear about the other 1111 phenomenon: They were told of a man who lived in the Lafayette Square neighborhood and had tried for years to keep the original building from being razed. For some reason, the man wanted that building with that special street number saved. The man’s partner later told the Hamiltons that the man died on the evening of Nov. 11, at 11:11 p.m.
Paul says more stories followed. “We got a book mailed to us, The 1111 Phenomenon, and we also found out there are a lot of people out there who believe in the mystical powers surrounding 1111.”
One of the theories out there is that playful spirits use the number to get people’s attention, and guardian angels then try to lead them in positive directions. “We think it’s a good omen,” Wendy says. “We are definitely blessed; there’s an angel who watches out over us and these buildings.”
The couple used their good fortune on Mississippi Avenue to expand their operations across Choteau Avenue. They bought the building that was once the home of the Schnaider Brewery and beer garden, which had been a popular entertainment spot in St. Louis in the 1870s. The Centennial Malt House building was built in 1876 by brewer Joseph Schnaider, who named it to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. In 2005, the Hamiltons did a multi-million dollar renovation of the old malt house, pushed on by what they call a blind confidence. “I guess in our heads we thought, We can do this; of course we can renovate this building, why couldn’t we?” Wendy remembers. “Until we got into it, it was way more than what we thought it would be.”
They’ve since opened a string of successful enterprises in the historic building: The Moulin and Malt House Cellar event centers, the Grand Petite Market, PW Pizza, the popular Vin de Set rooftop restaurant, and finally, the brand-new 21st Amendment bar.
Wendy and Paul obviously have a knack for creating success stories which seem to be related to their relationship as business partners and as husband and wife. “We work very hard, and appreciate one another and what we have,” Wendy explains. “We don’t have kids, so we work together and hang out with each other (and our dogs), we go on vacations together—we’re together all the time, we complement each other. I’m kind of the warm and fuzzy one, and he’s more of the Let’s get it done right now!” Paul agrees, saying, “We play off each other really well. I’m the guy who—when push comes to shove—will tell people how it’s going to be done, and she’ll back me up.”
All together, the Hamiltons’ businesses employ 160 people and possibly, more in the future. So was it hard work, good luck or something mystical that made it all happen? “I think it was a combination of all three,” Paul says., “I honestly think that a guardian angel is watching over us. We busted our butts to get that place open, we did a lot of the work ourselves, and then there’s the luck factor—it was good timing.” Whatever the reasons, the results have been, well, phenomenal.
A native St. Louisan, Paul Brown is a lifelong journalist, and previously served as a broadcaster for KMOX and KTRS radios and ABC 30. His Paul Brown Media specializes in public and media relations.