Watercolor by Marilynne Bradley

Miss Hulling's

Miss Florence Hulling was born in St. Louis in 1893 and orphaned at the age of three. She was adopted by her maternal grandparents who operated a farm near Mascoutah, Illinois, 30 miles east of St. Louis. She attended school for awhile, but the formal education of Miss Hulling ended when she was 13; she became a full-time farm worker — cooking, churning, making jellies and preserves, and sometimes laboring in the fields.

At the age of 17, Florence Hulling moved back to St. Louis. She was a cook for a family on Westminster Place for a year, and then in 1910 she took a job at Childs Restaurant on 7th near Olive. For 10 cents-an-hour her duties included cooking, serving food and scrubbing tables.

It was at Childs, in 1911, that Florence Hulling met Stephen R. Apted. Apted was a frequent diner at the restaurant over the 20 years Hulling worked there, watching her make her way up to head of the cafeteria department. When Childs transferred its operations away from St. Louis, Apted was among the many customers who urged Hulling to open her own restaurant. So in 1930, with $600 she had saved from her earnings, she took over the failed Missouri Hotel cafeteria.

In 1931 Florence Hulling and Stephen Apted were married, and Apted bought a partnership in the company. He took care of the business and financial matters and she supervised the day-to-day operations, particularly the cooking. Their son Stephen J. was born in 1933.
 


St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 8, 1933

Florence Hulling

Despite the Great Depression, the Apteds' enterprise was successful from the start. In an era when American tastes ran to unencumbered roasts and vegetables, Miss Hulling's menus were fresh from the heartland. In 1934, the Apteds opened a second cafeteria at 8th and Olive in the basement of the Chemical Building, formerly occupied by the Edward Benish eating place. They called it Miss Hulling's.

In 1935, General American Life gained control of the Missouri Hotel and the Apteds moved their Missouri Cafeteria across the street, leasing part of a building at the northwest corner of 11th and Locust. It eventually would also be called Miss Hulling's.
 

Miss Hulling's at Olive & "Ate" St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 22, 1935

A 1939 Miss Hulling’s menu reveals the homelike dishes featured at the restaurant. A mimeographed attachment listed more unusual dishes, such as stuffed baked veal hearts and braised ox joints. If a complete dinner was ordered for 50 cents extra, the diner also got soup or salad, bread and butter, a vegetable (choices included creamed kohlrabi and fried eggplant), a beverage and a dessert.
 

1939 Menu
(click image to enlarge)
"Be pretty if you can, be witty if you must,
but for god's sake, be friendly."

Miss Hulling's kitchens had the precision organization of a destroyer below decks; the bell sounded and everyone took up battle stations. The slicers sliced and the salad chefs mixed. One-third sized pans were used to cook smaller portions, so less food sat on the line for less time.
 

Serving area at Miss Hulling's Cafeteria, 725 Olive Street, 1957
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Early on, a bakery became a part of the Hulling’s cafeterias out of necessity. So many customers asked to take home a slice of the cake or pie they had just enjoyed that Hulling's installed a carry-out service. The biggest seller was their split-layer cakes, lemon and chocolate.
 

Retail pastry area and carry-out counter at Miss Hulling's Cafeteria, 725 Olive Street, 1957
(click image to enlarge)

A longtime employee recalled clearing tables one day when Miss Florence, as she was known to her employees, came out with a rag in each hand and exclaimed, "Honey, you got to use both hands to wipe tables, both hands. Don’t be leaning on one."
 

Dining area at Miss Hulling's Cafeteria, 725 Olive Street, 1957
(click image to enlarge)

There were people who ate their meals at Miss Hulling’s cafeterias twice a day, seven days a week. If someone unwittingly sat at a regular customer's table, they'd go up and inform them that it was their table.
 

1950s Miss Hulling's Lunch Menu
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Miss Hulling's Menu, 1103 Locust, August 24, 1961
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According to a 1978 Restaurant Hospitality survey, New York’s Tavern on the Green and Mama Leone were two of the nation’s top grossing independent restaurants. Guest checks averaged $14.50 and $13 respectively, with alcohol accounting for a significant portion of the tab 30% at Tavern on the Green. At the same time, St. Louis' Miss Hulling’s — with its chicken livers, creamed spinach, carrot marshmallow salad and a negligible alcohol business — had an average check of $2. Yet it ranked 58th out of the 500 restaurants in the survey.

Through succeeding decades the Miss Hulling’s enterprise, headed by the couple’s son Stephen J. Apted, grew large. Stephen J. was described by his mother as "the one who promotes the new things and gets the brainstorms." He acquired Medart’s in 1960, turning it into the Cheshire Inn, and opened numerous other restaurants, among them the Open Hearth in 1964 in the Bel Air East Motel at 4th & Washington and the Country Cupboard in Clayton in 1966. Miss Hulling's headquarters was at 11th and Locust above the two-floor cafeteria. At the same location were their two more formal dining spots Catfish & Crystal and His Lordship’s Pub — and their bakery and ice cream shop.
 

1964 Miss Hulling's Open Hearth Menu
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In 1975, the Apted-Hulling operation changed the name of their Cupboard restaurant at 8215 Clayton Road to Miss Hulling's, Clayton. While the Cupboard had offered more distinctive fare, the newly named restaurant served downtown cafeteria favorites from a more formal menu.

The restaurant was a bevy of small rooms, which budded off a warm, comfortable, antique-strewn lobby and a long hall. Waitresses wore early American attire. Miss Hulling's, Clayton closed in the spring of 1978.
 

Miss Hulling's, Clayton Menu
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Stephen R. Apted died in 1969. Florence Hulling Apted remained in close touch with her restaurants every day until she was well into her 80s. Her dinner sometimes consisted of “little tastes” from the restaurant kitchen so she could be certain there was no lapse in quality.

In late 1981, the Miss Hulling's cafeteria at 8th and Olive closed its doors. It was sold to Forum Restaurants and reopened as Waid's Cafeteria.

On Tuesday, April 3, 1984 Florence Hulling Apted died at the age of 91. Until near the end she could be seen daily at her restaurant at 11th and Locust supervising the preparation of food, the cafeteria line and clearing dishes from tables.
 

Florence Hulling Apted in 1967 Miss Hulling's at 11th & Locust
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In the fall of 1986, Stephen Apted opened a Miss Hulling's bakery on the upper level of Plaza Frontenac. Breads and pastries were made fresh daily at Miss Hulling's main bakery downtown and delivered to Plaza Frontenac every morning. Specialties included the chocolate split-layer and lemon split-layer cakes that had been famous for 48 years, as well as gourmet plum cake, Danish, pies, cakes and cookies. The Plaza Frontenac location also offered unusual salads, wine and cheeses to compliment the bakery goods. Apted closed the upscale shopping center location at the end of 1997 due to "lack of traffic in the mall."
 

Miss Hulling's Plaza Frontenac Menu
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The Miss Hulling’s cafeteria at 11th & Locust shuttered its doors for good after the close of business on Friday, October 8, 1993. Stephen J. Apted explained, "The building is crumbling around us, it’s in a high-risk area for our employees and the insurance company wants to raise our rates due to the building’s condition and age." Apted added that all attempts to find an alternate location for the cafeteria were futile.

The Miss Hulling's building was demolished early in 1997. No more seafood patties; no more carrot-marshmallow salads; no more chocolate cream pie.
 

Miss Hulling's building a few weeks after demolition had started in February, 1997


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