For more than eight decades, Kemoll’s Restaurant has been a fixture on the St. Louis dining scene, known for its sumptuous Sicilian dishes and first-rate service. The restaurant’s Ellen Cusumano says that when her grandparents Joe and Gaetana Kemoll started the eatery 83 years ago, their goal was to serve the finest food along with good service. “Grandma treated customers like they were guests in her home—and you always put out the finest for your guests,” she says.
Cusumano says her grandmother was taught to cook by her mother and those authentic recipes are still served today. But Mrs. Kemoll also realized the importance of changing with the times and keeping up with what the customers wanted. “We started out as a little corner cafe, and then added red and white checked tablecloths, which again changed to pastel linens,” Cusumano says. “The menu has changed as well, from sandwiches to hot plates to full entrees. Grandma always talked about showing customers you care by improving the business and maintaining the quality of the food.”
In the 1950s, Frank Cusumano, the Kemolls’ son-in-law and Ellen Cusumano’s father, joined the family business, bringing his management and business expertise to the restaurant. “My grandmother and father had the greatest mother-in-law/son-in-law relationship of all time,” Cusumano says. “Their talent and skill complemented each other perfectly, and they had a lot of respect for one another. The two of them were able to establish a tremendous foundation, not just in developing recipes, but also in the whole operation with regard to management and customer service.”
Over the years, Gaetana Kemoll introduced new offerings on the menu, many of them dishes never before served in the Midwest. “Food was one of the most important things in our family, and Grandma always wanted to offer something great,” Cusumano says. Some of the dishes she is credited with bringing to St. Louis include cheese bread, fried artichokes, cannelloni, calzone, linguine con vongole and spaghetti alla carbonara. “She always brought in something new, but kept the favorites,” Cusumano explains. “We wouldn’t take away the things that people come to Kemoll’s for.”
Cusumano says people expect more when they dine out nowadays, and one of the ways Kemoll’s has improved its overall dining experience is by moving the restaurant from the lobby of the Metropolitan Square building to the 40th floor. “The view up there is a real crowd-pleaser. No matter how many times I go up, I’m always looking out the window,” Cusumano says, adding that Kemoll’s recently reconfigured its dining area to accommodate customer requests for more window seating. “Everyone wants the view, so instead of just having our main dining room, we’ve opened additional dining spaces so there are more tables with a view.”
The staff is another big part of the restaurant’s success, Cusumano adds. “We’ve been around for four generations, and we have many staffers who’ve been with us for 10, 15, even 20 years,” she says. “The staff understands what we’re all about. That makes our work so much more than just a job.” She says outstanding customer service has been handed down through generations of Kemoll’s staffers. “When I started working here right after college, my father explained to me how much he wanted me to appreciate our guests,” Cusumano recalls. “He asked me, Ellen, do you know how many restaurants our customers pass to get to Kemoll’s? That’s something I’ll never forget.”
Celebrating 83 years, Kemoll’s has added seating that takes advantage of the views from atop the Metropolitan Square Building downtown. The restaurant, moved recently from the lobby to the 40th floor, is now open for lunch and dinner, and offers banquet facilities on the 42nd floor. Pictured on the cover, clockwise from left: marketing director Ellen Cusumano, manager Douglas Cusumano, wedding/events coordinator Tiffany Hutchinson, and owner Mark Cusumano (seated). For more information, call 421-0555 or visit http://www.kemolls.com">www.kemolls.com. cover design by Dawn Stremlau | photo by Suzy Gorman