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.
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
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
In April of 1990, the Apted family opened
Cactus Dani's at 9906 Clayton Road in Ladue. The restaurant was
named after Stephen Apted's granddaughter. The 150-seat dining room
was decorated with paintings, pottery, blankets and other works of
American Indian and Mexican Art.
Cactus Dani's offered
a mixture of Mexican and Southwestern cuisines. The imaginative menu
featured illustrations by artist Eileen LaGrotta. Cactus Dani's
closed in the fall of 1994.
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.
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