The success behind The Blue Owl Restaurant and Bakery in Kimmswick is a story of blood, sweat and tears. Walking inside the charming, homespun eatery in the historic Mississippi River town is like going to Grandma’s house for Sunday dinner, where you’ll find of the best home-cooked, country-style meals around. And you can’t leave without the famous Levee High Caramel Pecan Apple Pie (trademark-registered).
But to totally appreciate what you’ve just experienced, it may help to understand the family behind the food, that’s the ‘blood’ part of this story—blood as in family. Owner Mary Hostetter started her road to incredible success some 30 years ago. She was joined full-time by her daughter, Kim Warner, in 1997. They are now grooming first-born grandson, Brett Martin, to someday possibly follow in their footsteps.
When Brett was just a baby, Mary brought him into the restaurant to visit with her guests. Mary says his nickname then was 'Precious.' Brett is now 16. “He really believes that someday he’ll be in charge of The Blue Owl; and we believe that, too.”
After earning her business degree, daughter Kim set out to build the Blue Owl name into a larger, and even more successful entity. Kim, who is now in her mid-30s, helped spearhead the neighboring Blue Owl Sweet Shoppe, along with two more Sweet Shoppes in Festus and House Springs.
While her mother built the business working from her heart, Kim says she’s following Mary’s traditions but is using a lot more of her ‘head’ in the process. “My project began when we started expanding; and I am determined it’s going to be successful, and I’m not going to give up until it is.”
Hard work is a common theme for this family, that’s where the ‘sweat’ comes in. Mary started baking Christmas cookies for craft shows and mail orders out of her Oakville home in 1983. That first Christmas, she shipped out 30,000 cookies, but had to work 21 hours a day, seven days a week to do it.
Not long after, Mary met Lucianna Gladney-Ross, the heiress of the 7UP fortune and 'the matriarch of Kimmswick,' who was trying to recruit yet another person to run the restaurant. “Mrs. Ross restored The Blue Owl in 1980, and it had already been through four different owners,” Mary explains. “Every year, it failed because there weren’t enough people coming to Kimmswick. But Mrs. Ross was sure that someday, Kimmswick was going to be a thriving town—just like it was when she was a child.”
At that meeting, Mary promised Mrs. Ross that someday the heiress would have to stand in line to get in the doors of the restaurant. She says the elegant old woman responded by laughing out loud. In January 2012, Lucianna Gladney-Ross died. But before she passed away, she saw all her dreams realized: thousands of Blue Owl meals being served every week, and her beloved town very much alive.
To keep her end of the promise, Mary and her family continue to work unimaginable hours to make it all happen. The restaurant has been featured on Oprah and the TODAY Show, as well as on Travel Channel and Japanese TV, just to name a few. And their wildly successful mail order business continues to grow.
But as with many prosperous businesses, this one comes with heartache, that’s the ‘tears’ part. Mary says she had to bake to survive after her first husband walked out on her 30 years ago. “He was my high-school sweetheart. We had been married 12 years, and had a 2-year-old and 5-year-old,” she says. “Out of the clear blue, he said, I’m going to leave.” The memories make her tear up even today. “I was so lost, I didn’t know how I was going to take care of my children and keep a roof over our heads, but God lead me through this.”
Mary married her husband Jerry in 2000, but says she did it only after rebuffing his early proposals. “He was raising his two sons, and I was raising my two daughters. I knew I could just not take on a blended family and a husband, as well as The Blue Owl,” she says. “I told him, You need to go out and find someone—any woman would give anything to have a husband like you. He said, I’ll wait for you. So he waited 15 years, and we have the most beautiful family: four children, five grandchildren and twins on the way.”
You can hear the happiness and joy in her voice—the kind that comes from a lot of blood, sweat and tears, adds Mary. “Tears of heartache and tears of joy.”