Watercolor by Marilynne Bradley

Ruggeri's

Antonio Ruggeri opened a tiny restaurant on Edwards Avenue just before the start of the 1904 World’s Fair. It was colorful and bright, with red and white checkered table clothes and the latest in gas lights. When he died in 1927, his son Henry carried on the high standards and traditions set by his father, building Ruggeri’s into an iconic restaurant that flourished for almost 80 years.
 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 1941 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 14, 1945

Henry Ruggeri and his wife Erminia lived above the restaurant at 2300 Edwards on the Hill. Henry (the Chief) ran the floor and Erminia (Mama Minnie) did the kitchen. Minnie's mission in life was to see the waiters – her "kids" – married off. Mama Minnie cooked for her kids on Sunday and the Chief took the waiters, busboys and their dates to the Chase or to Sportsman's Park. Many of the waiters started as bus boys and remained at the restaurant for over 25 years, including Joe Garagiola's older brother Mickey and Yogi Berra's older brother John. Mickey started out as a busboy and dishwasher in 1936, moved up to waiter in 1940 and came back after the service until the restaurant closed. At Henry's urging, Yogi took an off-season job as "greeter" in 1949. He even wore a tux!
 

Mickey Garagiola
 
Ruggeri's Lunch Menu Signed by Yogi Berra, 1940s
(click image to enlarge)

The Chief knew all of the policemen and doormen around town; he fed most of the police department. By "taking care" of the doormen at the hotels, he built his business.

Ruggeri's was known for their charcoal broiled steaks, their seafood and their authentic Italian dishes. They were also renown for their toasted ravioli.

Mickey Garagiola was sitting at the bar at Oldani's restaurant in the early 1940s the night toasted ravioli was invented. "After our shift at Ruggeri's, the waiters would go to Oldani's place because he stayed open late. The cook Fritz accidentally dropped a couple of boiled raviolis into the deep fryer. He was so mad he dumped the whole pot into the hot oil. He sent the 'toasted' ravioli to the bar as complimentary appetizers. The rest is history. Ruggeri's added the melted butter and Angelo's started the meat sauce."

Ruggeri's Menu, 1950s
(click image to enlarge)
 
Ruggeri's Menu, 1950s
(click image to enlarge)

Celebrities came to Ruggeri's. Mickey relates, "The Chief usually locked the doors around 11. Frank Sinatra was playing the Arena with Tommy Dorsey. 'Peanuts,' a friend who followed the big bands, came banging at Ruggeri's about 11:30 and told the Chief, 'Hey, I got Frank Sinatra with me and we want something to eat.' The Chief said, 'Frank Sinatra? He's nothing. Go down to Slay's, he's open late.'"

Anybody who played St. Louis knew Ruggeri's: Rosemary Clooney, Robert Young, the Cisco Kid, Rocky Marciano. Broadcasters (Jack Buck, Harry Caray, Vin Scully) and ballplayers ate at Ruggeri's. Most of them stayed at the Chase in those days. Hack, the maitre d' at the Tenderloin Room, would send them over. KMOX personality Jack Carney was a house favorite. He would order a bottle of wine and never drink a glass; he'd offer the wine to the waiters on the floor. The next day on the air, Carney would crack jokes about the waiters at Ruggeri's drinking the customers' wine.

In 1955, Henry Ruggeri doubled the size of his restaurant, adding new kitchen and dining facilities. Capacity was increased to 650 diners.
 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 4, 1955
 
Ruggeri's Main Dining Room

On December 29, 1956 Stan Kann debuted at Ruggeri's playing the organ. Kann had purchased a huge pipe organ that had been at the Loew's State Theater since 1924. The organ was compacted into two 25 foot square basement rooms of the restaurant, with the 16 foot pipes curved to fit under the eight foot ceiling. An organ company in Granite City spent a year rebuilding the instrument for the basement location and it took four months to install it. Kann purchased the organ for $12,000. Stan Kann and his organ were fixtures in the Ruggeri's dining room for over 20 years.
 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 28, 1956

Stan Kann

Henry Ruggeri, Sr. died on February 17, 1961 at the age of 65. Henry Ruggeri, Jr., who had taken over the restaurant's operation from his father, died on April 20, 1975 at the age of 44 after a long illness. Frank Ruggeri, the restaurant's maitre d' for 40 years, died on September 19, 1976 at the age of 64. He had retired two years earlier.

 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 1, 1956

Henry Ruggeri, Sr.

The leadership drain was too much for the restaurant. Rumors began to circulate that Ruggeri's was for sale. On May 11, 1980 a "for sale" ad appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. But there were no buyers for the historic restaurant on the Hill. On Saturday, June 8, 1982 Ruggeri's closed its doors for good.


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