Inside St. Louis
An original watercolor
The long lost Planters Hotel, which replaced the historic Planters House hotel in 1894 was where in 1900 we’d find one very young Arthur Schneithorst serving as a silver steward as he started his legendary career. That once famed 10 story inn closed as a hotel on December 9th, 1922 to be reborn as an office building first called the Planters Building and later the Cotton Belt Railroad office building when that organization moved its headquarters from 707 Market Street. The Planters building was on the east side of Broadway between Pine and Chestnut Streets. In a parallel world farther west, one Fred W. Wipke, in 1895, purchased for $3,500 a piece of property at Clayton and Denny Roads that had been in the hands of the William Dwyer family since 1840. Dwyer and heirs ran a successful general store at that site that served local farmers, travelers headed to the golden west and many military men during the Civil War.
The Dwyer and Schneithorst names would connect in 1955 when Arthur Bernard “Bud” Scheneithorst, Jr. would buy the tract that had become home to Wipke’s Grove and 2 or 3 “summer houses” or small cottages. Wipke’s evolved into a popular saloon and restaurant rendezvous for good food and libations at the southeast corner of the intersection of what is now Clayton and Lindberg Roads and after Wipke passed on, the business was continued by his widow. A similar situation which we’ll shortly reveal had occurred subsequent to the death of Arthur Schneithorst, Sr. a few years earlier. After the death of Wipke’s widow the property was closed in 1952 and the main stucco covered frame building that dated to 1840 along with other structures fell into a state of disrepair, other than a Shell service station at the corner. The land was sold by her son Lester Wipke and a large contingent of 28 Wipke heirs to George Capps and Arthur Schneithorst, Jr.. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves in the telling of the Schneithorst tale.
All that the genial boniface Arthur Schneithorst, Sr. did in his 62 years; from the time of caring for the Planters Hotel silver to his passing in 1947 will not be documented here as our goal is to concentrate on his and his family’s legendary hospitality careers. In 1917, a time when names and things Germanic were not in favor by some due to The Great War, Arthur-The-First persevered and became general manager and secretary-treasurer of the well respected and nostalgically remembered Benish Restaurant and Catering Company’s chain of eight locations. That firm was presided over by Edward A. Benish. In 1931 the operation under the jurisdiction of Arthur, Sr. became the receiver for the then 11 year old Park Edge Apartments (originally The Guild Apartments at Euclid Avenue and W. Pine Boulevard that failed due to the Great Depression). Among the more notable Benish establishments during this period was the first floor restaurant and basement cafeteria in the Chemical (now Alexa building, which is a stalled condominium project) at the NE corner of 8th and Olive Streets. The basement space would eventually pass to the Apted Family for a Miss Hulling’s cafeteria. Keen observers would note a carved letter “B” on the back of the booths which stood for Benish. Another prime Benish location was the NE corner of Maryland Avenue and N. Kingshighway Boulevard which fronted a streetcar turnaround and is today the sole City of St. Louis Straub’s Market. Benish passed away in 1933 the same year the company itself succumbed due to the dismal economic conditions of the day.
At that time, Arthur, Sr. who wore wire-rimmed glasses, lived at the Congress Hotel with his wife Bertha (maiden name Zuber) was depressed but not deterred by the demise of the Benish operation and he in a short time took over a space at 204 N. 8th Street that had housed the William Mauch Jewelry store. He opened what became a most successful sea-food restaurant known as The Rock Grill. It was billed as St. Louis’ Original Sea Food House and their advertising proudly proclaimed it was under the personal attention of Arthur B. Schneithorst formerly manager of Benish restaurants. The Grill, which had a façade of rock, was noted for soft-shelled crabs (the first I ever had and I’ve loved ‘em ever since) and live Maine lobsters from a large tank in the dining room. Schneithorst’s admonition for his chefs was: “Don’t accept a shipment of lobsters unless they are kicking vigorously - or the customers will be.” The Grill also promoted: “Oysters opened before your eyes at our famous oyster bar.”
By 1937 when Mr. and Mrs. Schneithorst lived at the Tramore Castle apartments at 4525 Lindell Boulevard he also took on the operation of the then 21 year old Bevo Mill at 4749 Gravois Road at the intersection of Morganford Road and Delor Street in the heart of the scrubby Dutch southside. They noted in advertising that Bevo Mill was on the Bates, Delor and Cherokee bus lines, which was then far more important to know than now as many people did not own a car. Early on under the Schneithorst regime the Bevo Mill became noted for steaks, chops, fish, sea food, lobster (as at the Rock Grill, The Mill also had a large lobster tank in plain view of all) and traditional rotisserie chicken. German dishes were served, but when World War II raged they were not that popular. After the War, Bevo Mill became a leading German dining house in St. Louis.
Prior to Arthur Schneithorst’s management of The Mill it was at various times under the tutelage of Henry Dietz (the last manager of Tony Faust’s), Elmer Telthorst (who would later run Little Bevo on Morganford across from Bevo Mill) and Harry Magill. Arthur, Sr. would run Bevo until his death in 1947 but his widow, the white-haired and motherly Bertha carried on with ease and confidence as she magnificently managed the restaurant, its banquet spaces and basement cocktail lounge known as the Yacht Club (renamed the Bavarian Room in 1961). In 1955 the highly respected Walter Collins took the reins. Mrs. Schneithorst, Sr. also had the guidance of their son Arthur, Jr. who was born in 1915 (he passed away in August 1994). He graduated from Western Military Academy in ’31, had an appointment to West Point and ultimately was a Washington U law school grad. Two years in practice was enough for him and he had turned his attention to the family business. He became a major force on his own in the dining industry as he had the lucrative contract to operate the Lambert Field Restaurant and airline food concessions starting in 1937. He retained this arrangement until the new terminal opened in 1956 . He also held the contract for the food service at the bustling Knapp-Monarch employee cafeteria on Bent Avenue. In this period Arthur, Jr. took up residence at 9 Country Life Acres.
We could wax nostalgic with regard to Bevo Mill which was home to at
least two replicas of the Anheuser-Busch “mascot” Reynard The Fox
whose likeness can still be seen at each corner of the Bevo plant at
AB. But we’ll stick to the one that most people know little of and
that’s the fact that for several years Mrs. Schneithorst, Sr. made
her residence on the second and third floors of the Mill’s tower and
became known as “the lady who lives in the mill.” The entry to this
luxury apartment was hidden from diners eyes by a doorway. Behind
that inconspicuous door you would have found a richly red-carpeted
staircase that led to formal entry hall leading to a semi-circular
living room and adjoining parlor with crayon rose colored walls that
followed the contours of the Bevo stucco covered brick building.
French doors offered the warmth of the sun all day as well as a view
of the hub-bub of the area.
All of the four generations of the Schneithorst restaurant family have had a keen sense of going where the business is, and in 1955 the business had moved west and so did Arthur, Jr. when he purchased the aforementioned Ladue property at Clayton Road and Lindbergh Boulevard. The original section of the restaurant opened on March 4th, 1956 along with a drive-in operation complete with car-hops and the Tele-Tray whereby you could call your order in from your car directly to the kitchen. Similar devices were also at each table in the restaurant. They billed this as “all electric dining.” The first building held a very contemporary designed dining room created by the Architectural firm of F. R. Nauman and Robert Elkington.. The exceptionally large room was decorated with canvas covered plaster walls in shades of charcoal, red, black, beige and turquoise. The chairs were white molded plastic and there was a lunch counter with 12 seats. Actual pigskin covered the floor.
James Schneithorst was very involved with the family business by the time he married Caro Nichols Holmes Smith in 1964. Their nuptials were announced at the Old Warson Country Club where she had been presented to society three years earlier in a gala event at which bandleader Lester Lanin conducted the music and the room glowed with soft light from hurricane lamps on the tables. Jim was educated at Barat Hall, Country Day, Denver University and Cornell University. While Caro’s educational background was at Mary Institute, Maryville College and St. Louis University. She, by the way, was a Suburban Journals/KMOX Radio Woman of Achievement in 1995.
But, let’s get back to business. If running the main dining establishment and the drive-in wasn’t a big enough challenge, the Schneithorsts also opened the Big Bevo drive-in restaurant at 2120 Hampton Avenue and Wilson Avenue at the western edge of The Hill in southwest St. Louis. It’s the site now occupied by Hardees. And they really went west with a drive-in named Jay’s on Highway 94 in St. Charles. Jay’s would close by the late sixties and the Big Bevo was purchased by then current manager James Patrick Murphy in 1973. Long time manager Howard Mallott, who was one of a kind, had been transferred from Hampton to the drive in and coffee house at Lindbergh and Clayton in 1967. He’d be a Schneithorst manager for some 50 years having retired in late 2009. He ran the place as carefully and conscientiously as if he were the actual owner.
The modernistic canopy over the final drive in came down in ’76 and the soon it closed as the day of the drive-in had ended and Howard turned his full attention to the Kaffe Haus, which when it started in 1973 was considered the first actual coffee house in the area, long before Starbucks. Of course many hotels had what were called coffee shops such as the Parker House at the Forest Park. Today the Schneithorst’s food and drink services are supervised by long-time employees Steve Stockhausen and Dan Fox. They’ve been with the firm for 20 and 15 years respectively and carry-on in the same strong managerial style as that of Howard.
Meanwhile starting back in the sixties when builder/developer Joseph H. Vatterott opened several hotels he turned to his friends the Schneithorsts to operate the dining rooms and food service for each location. These were all Holiday Inns with the exception of a Ramada Inn at Grand and Forest Park Boulevards. The other hotels were at 23rd and Market Streets; S. Lindbergh just south of the Watson Road/Route 66 overpass; N. Lindbergh at I-70 and in Edwardsville and West at I-70 and I-270. This meant that at one time there was a Schneithorst restaurant at four locations on Route 66 bypasses. When the Holiday Inn corporation took over the hotels, they also took over the food department at each location ending a 12 year run for Schneithorst. When all the operations were running the Schneihorsts even operated their own central supply house in Maplewood.
But for decades the Schneithorst “crown jewel” was their Hofamberg Inn at Clayton and Lindbergh. The name came from their Hof-Am-Berg Farm near Clarksville MO and on that picturesque pastureland in the heart of fertile farm country they raised all the beef served at the restaurant. The beef was outstanding as it was custom-bred, custom-fed and then carefully aged. The Hofamberg Inn grew to an incredible size over the years to become the largest dining establishment in St. Louis at 40,000 square feet and was known nationwide as a truly great German themed restaurant. It was one of the earliest places anywhere to offer a Sunday brunch which they named the “Hunt Brunch.”
In 1979 St. Louis magazine described the place as being the epitome of St. Louis style with dining rooms as large as a Munich beer hall, filled with Bavarian artifacts, and where rich German and American food is served by peasant costumed waitresses. The Hofamberg at its zenith was hailed as a Mecca for gourmets who appreciated distinctive dining. Some of the more popular items on the menu were the wiener schnitzel ala Holstein, sauerbraten, rouladen and whole live Maine lobster. A menu dating to the early sixties offered a full lobster dinner for $4.75 and there was nothing on the menu higher than $4.95. Plus all entrees, of which there were bunch, came with cheddar cheese and assorted wafers, tossed green salad or salad of the day, baked Idaho potato with sour cream or butter or the potato of the day and a vegetable.
Like the drive-in before it, the Hofamberg Inn and its many banquet rooms became a victim of changing tastes for lighter, simpler, quicker fare and it sadly went the way of the dinosaur as Jim Schneihorst, Jr. closed it in 2002. The main restaurant was razed to make way for the current, and extremely successful, The Village at Schneithorst’s, which is a high end retail and office complex with much of its exterior design in the familiar Hofamberg’s Bavarian style. This was a 9.2 million dollar 35,000 square foot project. The Kaffee Haus had been remodeled and upgraded in 1994 in the style of a Bavarian Lodge room. The stone clad Bierkellar remains basically as it was for decades complete with couches by the fireplace plus there is now a rooftop Biergarten which has proved to be quite a hit. A comparison place would be the rooftop dining at Vin de Set at 2017 Chouteau Avenue and years ago it would have been comparable to the Chase Roof of the Chase Hotel which was enclosed in 1940 to become the Zodiac Lounge and Starlight Room.
Today the Schneihorst Kaffe Haus offers a modern transitional menu combining some of the classics of the Hofamberg Inn with those of the coffee house. Every Saturday they still serve the rich Chicken ala Rhine soup that originally was available only at Christmas and they continue to serve what many consider to be the best fresh French fried onion rings around; lightly breaded and served piping hot. The Rainbow Salad is almost the same as the Schneithorst Salad Bowl of years gone by and their turkey dinner (served after 4 p.m.) is basically the same as it was years ago. The original dinner, which would set you back $2.95, offered Roast Maplecrest turkey with dressing, giblet gravy, peach Melba, candied sweet potatoes, French style string-beans and lettuce and tomato salad with French dressing. Today’s dinner offers fresh roasted turkey and homemade dressing, fluffy snow white potatoes, giblet gravy, green beans and cranberry sauce. While the dinner is almost the same, the price had escalated a bit.
The Kaffe Haus offers breakfast, lunch and dinner with specialties
of the house such as deep fried clams, knackwurst Reuben, fried
young spring chicken, Big Bevo hamburger, Baron’s Special burger,
turkey and bison burgers, the Milwaukee club (made with
braunschweiger), chicken Diana, broiled or fried fish, chicken BLT
club, zesty cole-slaw, vegetable soup and daily specials. For
dessert your might get Key lime pie or a slice of a freshly baked
fruit pie. (The banana cream is always a good choice). At breakfast
consider the German Utopia, the 2+2+2+2, buttermilk pancakes, corned
beef hash with a poached egg or a Belgian pecan waffle. And yes,
while other places go in and out of vogue, Schneithorst’s remains
the place where the elite meet to eat.