The Secret of Tony's St. Louis has a reasonable assemblage of places that are with certainty considered to be World Class, such as: Missouri Botanical Garden, Fox Theatre, Gateway Arch, Anheuser-Busch, Eads Bridge, Forest Park, Chase Park Plaza Hotel, The Muny, Antique Warehouse, Cathedral Basilica, Wainwright Building… Tony’s. As it’s been for over half a century, when most St. Louisans are asked to name the truly greatest restaurants of our town, Tony’s is most always, and justifiably, at the very top of the list. Even those with access to the finest private clubs generally give the nod to Tony’s as the epitome of fine dining in the Mound City. It’s the special place for special occasions or to make any occasion extra special. There have been, and are now, many pretenders to the Tony’s throne in this great city that’s always been blessed with a solid contingent of quality restaurants, thanks in no small part by Tony’s always raising the bar. So how does Tony’s consistently come out on top? Read on as we reveal some of the “secrets” of Tony’s success. Before Tony’s, the Bommarito family had St. Louis’ first Italian bakery. It was at 7th and Carr Streets, plus they operated a spaghetti factory at 10th and Carr. Tony’s was created by Anthony Bommarito in 1946, and, in its earliest life was a small café, soon to be called Tony’s Spaghetti House and by the early 1950s Tony’s Steak House. It was located just north of the heart of downtown at 826 N. Broadway between Delmar Boulevard (formerly Morgan St.) and Franklin Avenue in the old Produce Row district at the edge of the soon to disappear Little Italy neighborhood. Family names of those who lived nearby included: Polizzi, Impostato, Olivastro, Lapinta, Viviano, Difirore, Impielizzeri, Tocco, Arrigo, Marino and Capone. Businesses close at hand included the Buckhorn Cafe, Anthony Lombardo Wholesale Fruits, the Trailways and Greyhound bus depots, United Bank, B. Gelber’s men’s clothiers, Union Market and a slew of establishments ranging from the Italo-American Importing Co., National Cash Register and Central Hardware to Bert Grimm’s tattoo parlor, Meletio’s Seafood and Aufrey Jones, shoe shine shop. In these early times Tony’s served breakfast and lunch. Dinners would be some years off as back then they closed around 6. They stopped serving lunch in ’59. Tony died in 1949 and in June of that year his son Vincent, freshly graduated by the Jesuits from St. Louis University High School took over the operation that was at the time in the name of his mother Lucille G. Bommarito. They lived at 6166 Lucille Ave. in north St. Louis just east of Goodfellow. Vince had the title of headwaiter as he was learning the front of the spaghetti house and brother, Anthony, Jr., was a waiter who tended to the back of the house. Their sister Joann had the job of hostess. It was, as they say, a family affair and still today, 63 years after Tony’s opened, it remains that way. It’s another of the myriad secrets of Tony’s success. Another “secret” is that for 60 years…just think of it, 60 consecutive years, Vincent J. has been at the helm of Tony’s, leading it through incredible changes that have simply “done in” most restaurants and many businesses of any type during these six decades. Vince is there day in and day out guiding the fortunes of Tony’s, but now he has the solid support and expertise of sons Vincent and Anthony, both CBC grads and James, a product of Priory, who are mastering the maestro’s methods. There’s always a Bommarito in residence at Tony’s to insure that every facet of the operation is as it should be – five star and then some. The Bommaritos are bolstered by an incomparable staff of caring professionals who are all part of the family - even though they are not actually family. Vincent, Sr. can not only tell you the names of each of the several dozen employees of Tony’s, but can instantly recall how many years they’ve been there, how they got their job, what they do at the restaurant and anything you’d want to know about their lives and families. He could also provide these details of most every person who has ever worked there, such as Rico Lonati their butcher for 40 years…and they still have a full-time butcher on staff, or Herbie Cray, who was with Tony’s for 25 years. He was a master at walking up the steps backwards as he led diners to the second floor dining room at the old location, which before it closed had expanded from the original small, simple storefront eatery with tin ceiling and linoleum floor to a complex of six connected buildings and a private parking lot. Vince’s brother Anthony, who started Anthony’s in the Equitable Building 35 years ago, also had mastered the art of going up those stairs in reverse fashion. Today among many other loyal and dedicated employees there’s Richard Brown, valet for 17 years and Ken Bollewark, manager of the dining room with over 30 years tenure. Vince listed many, many more loyal and dedicated employees from then and now, such as Donnie Bond who supervises private parties and sous chef Gerard Germaine, but to Vince’s dismay, we just don’t have room to list them all. In these times there are few restaurants or businesses of any type that can boast of having employees who’ve been with them with them for such great periods of time. It’s yet another Tony’s secret. If it were up to Vince, Tony’s would still be located on the east side of the 800 block of N. Broadway, but the city fathers felt this property was more important for the development related to the Cervantes Convention Center and Trans World Dome so Tony’s needed to move. The question on the minds of many was would Tony’s move to Clayton or West County? These far away environs didn’t have a hope, as Vince would never desert the downtown he so dearly loves. Even though they are long gone he felt both the soul of the vibrant environment of the past and the promise of new development. Seventeen years ago Tony’s made the move to the old Brooks Brothers Clothiers space in the Equitable Building at the southeast corner of S. Broadway and Market St.. He and Anthony were back together again. Vince’s devotion to downtown was again recently proven when he opted not to move to the Busch’s Grove property on Clayton Road. Anthony would depart the restaurant business to start the A. Bommarito Wine Distributing Company that has blossomed to be the pre-eminent distributor of fine wines in Missouri. This family connection is certainly one of the reasons that the wine list at Tony’s is supreme. (Another secret!) But even though Anthony’s restaurant, which served a more French traditional style cuisine closed, Anthony’s Bar remains a mainstay in the lobby of the Equitable where it’s solidly ensconced as one of the top power lunch destinations in the Midwest. Anthony’s Bar is open Monday through Friday for lunch from 11:30 to 2 and dinner is served from 5 Tuesday through Saturday. It would be a tough task to find a better hamburger than that served at Anthony’s, where at night you may also order from the Tony’s menu …plus you can valet park, which makes Anthony’s the only casual dining place offering such service. It’s great to grab an early dinner and take advantage of the valet when attending a Card’s game, since the stadium’s just 2 blocks south. By the standards of any era, Anthony’s Bar is on the small side with just 8 tables and 22 stools at the bar. It can easily be as crowded as Carl’s Drive-In on Manchester Road. The raison d’etre of Tony’s continuous succes d’estime is the blending of all the preceding with the highest quality victuals, creatively and properly prepared and accompanied by incomparable service in an atmosphere of warmth and tranquility. In other words you just can’t beat the food, service and atmosphere of Tony’s. The dining areas are of a subdued rich and warm design with great attention paid to acoustics. Here, unlike so many other places today, you can have a private conversation without shouting to be heard or straining to hear. There are no coffee stands or dishes in the dining room other than those on the table. These dishes along with the silver, crystal and linen are all dedicated to your particular table and kept behind soundproof walls. Sound barriers and the specially engineered acoustical ceiling combine with gently served and removed dishes and the silent table signals of waiters, bus staff and captains to provide you with a truly relaxed atmosphere. They could serve a party of 10 to perfection without anyone needing to say anything. Yet more secrets! Over its many years Tony’s has become synonymous with great food and now Vince, Jr. is in charge of the kitchen insuring that they are supplied with only the finest and freshest ingredients, because to serve the best, you need to start with the best. Nothing second rate will do, ever. The prime corn fed steaks are hand-cut, sauces start simmering at 6 or 7 a.m., fresh fish from the cold Atlantic is flown in 2-3 times a week and Dover sole arrives by air from Europe weekly and even the herbs are fresh. Today 42% of the entrees served there are seafood dishes. The soup course might include pheasant consomme or a rich cream concoction, the salads are sensational and the extensive list of appetizers can easily be a substitute for an entrée. Over 50% of diners order dessert such as Tony’s house made banana ice cream or an incredible ice cream pie. Those desiring so can call in special orders a day ahead of time for a personalized meal. Some request the great meatballs for which Tony’s Spaghetti House was noted. They still use the original secret recipe. More secrets. The quality of what Tony’s serves is unparalleled and the service from arrival at the door until your car is brought around, is smooth and unequalled. You are made to feel welcome in a most personal and sincere manner and you’re never rushed or talked down to. Every person you meet on the staff, and you’ll meet quite a few, is pleasant, knowledgeable, considerate and professional. To them working at Tony’s is not just a job, it’s a career and a lifestyle. They have reached the pinnacle and they respond by being tops in what they do. The succinct menu offering is designed to both provide a surprising variety and to insure that each dish is prepared and served to pure perfection. Tony’s is not inexpensive, but on the other hand, it doesn’t need to be overly expensive. Quality of this magnitude does come at a price, but it’s well worth it. At Tony’s you can make a reservation and know, that as often a possible, your table will be ready for you when you arrive, the staff members you meet will know your name and you never need to wonder if a waiter will replenish your water or coffee or bring fresh bread and butter. You can relax and be pampered for 2 to 3 hours and in many cases experience your entrée being expertly prepared tableside. A night a Tony’s is a magical time that will always be a night to remember. Vince Bommarito’s philosophy is to take care of people, to understand what they want and to always remember that those dining there have selected Tony’s when they could have gone elsewhere. At Tony’s you’re not a customer, you’re a guest and if you aren’t already, you quickly become a friend. And now you know some of the secrets of the success of Tony’s…but here’s another one: Vince’s wife Martha has supported him for 50 plus years without complaint as he worked, and is still working, almost every night of every week, of every month of every year. As Greg Holzhauer stated many years ago in an Ozark Airlines in-flight magazine, “The Magazine of the Mid-West”, Tony’s is still the toast of the town. It remains so today.
Written by: Ron (Johnny Rabbitt) Elz of KMOX and Channel 5’s Show Me St. Louis