Cyrano's was founded in
1960 by Mr. and Mrs. John Marshall. The restaurant was located in the
basement of their Hi-Fi Showroom at 6383 Clayton Road (at DeMun). The Marshalls introduced St. Louis to two phenomena – quality
component stereophonic equipment and gourmet desserts. The hi-fi
business played an integral part in the ambience of Cyrano's, as
classical music permeated the restaurant over the
Marshall’s reel-to-reel tape player.
Cyrano's became the "in place" for
high school and college students after movies, proms and other
social events. Adults quickly followed. On most weekends there were
long waits; customers lined up the stairs, out the door and around
the block. The line extended from a smallish waiting area with bench
Marshall's reel-to-reel tape deck, behind smoked glass, was against the back
wall as a distraction.
Basement pipes running overhead in both the waiting area and the
dark romantic dining room were left exposed, and painted the same
dark color as the ceiling. Candle-lit wooden tables in the dining
room completed the scene.
Cyrano's was so popular that the restaurant became one of Pevely Dairy's biggest whipped cream customer, using over 100 gallons of 36 per cent whipping cream every week. And 40 trays of fresh strawberries were flown in from California weekly.
In the spring of 1972, the Marshalls expanded Cyrano's upward. They converted half of their Hi-Fi Showroom into a second dining room, increasing the restaurant’s seating capacity to 165. And for the first time, luncheons were served.
In the new upstairs dining area, tables were
intimately arranged with
candles and fresh flowers on their marble tops. Reproductions of masters
were softly illuminated on the walls, there were beamed ceilings and fine walnut
that originally graced Mill Creek Valley homes, and in the background,
classical guitar and piano music, pleasantly muted, added a soothing
touch. For those with romance in their hearts, this was the place.
The Marshalls decision to expand was not a sudden one. John Marshall described himself as a frustrated restaurateur. "I’m one of these guys 50 years old and still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up." Through the years, he had collected gourmet cookbooks; he had 150 of them and wanted to put them to use.
The upstairs menu was expanded. It included seven soups, all homemade. The two best sellers were the New England style clam chowder and the split pea with ham, with the French onion, the navy bean and the gazpacho close behind. The soups were served in crocks setting on tripods, costing $1 a bowl ($1.25 for the clam chowder). Entrees included Boeuf Bourguignon, Italian ham and salami, and Crab Louis. Each of these dishes cost $2.50 and were accompanied by a mixed salad. And of course, Cyrano's downstairs desserts were all on the menu.
On Sunday afternoon, December 23, 1979, a fire
began in Cyrano's lower level, just hours before the restaurant was
scheduled to open. Fire burned up the stairway from the basement and
caused extensive damage to the upstairs dining room and the
neighboring Hi-Fi Showroom.
Most of the damage was done by smoke and water; fire officials determined the main structure to be sound. John Marshall told officials he would rebuild, but shortly thereafter, he sold the property to St. Louis County Bank.
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The Marshalls reopened Cyrano's in 1980 at 1059
South Big Bend Boulevard, a building that had housed a Shakey's
Pizza Parlor, St. Louis World's Fare Restaurant and the Tivoli Cafe. The menu was the same but the vibe had
In 1985, the Marshalls retired and sold Cyrano's to Ray and Fran Gibson.
"Our commitment was to leave everything just as
it was,” said Ray Gibson. "Cyrano’s has always been known for its
desserts, soups, special coffees, continental teas, salads and
sandwiches. Consequently, it wouldn’t have been in our best
interests to drop any of them. What we did instead was to add a
second menu, featuring steaks and fresh seafood."
In 1990, Dr. Francis E. O’Donnell purchased Cyrano's from the Gibsons "with the goal of restoring it to its former level of excellence."
O’Donnell took the Gibsons' expanded menu to another level. Cyrano's still offered its signature ice creams and coffees, although the selections had been trimmed. But the menu focused much more on dinners, far beyond the famous roast beef sandwich, with a wide variety of entrees, including pastas and gourmet pizzas.
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John Marshall died in 2010. His wife Frances had died in 1999. Their European-style coffeehouse, which had gone up in flames in 1979, finally died on September 15, 1996 when Frank O'Donnell closed Cyrano's and sold the space to Charlie Downs, George Mahe and Bob Gontram. The trio would reopen the restaurant in November as Harvest.
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Charlie and Carolyn Downs resurrected Cyrano's in 2003 at 603 East Lockwood in Webster Groves, where it is still in business today. Their website states "former Cyrano's tables, mirrors, artwork and antiques have been restored and intermingled with the bright colors of today, creating an atmosphere that is alive and progressive, but still cozy and romantic." Perhaps, but for those of us who remember the original Cyrano's at Clayton and DeMun, the Cleopatra doesn't taste the same.
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