The Pasta House Boy

A black restaurateur says he was used as a frontman -- but didn't know it

Arlando Mischeaux says he used to worship J. Kim Tucci, one of the owners of St. Louis-based Pasta House Co. -- that is, until the day Tucci locked him out of his own restaurant.

Sitting at the dining-room table in his University City apartment, Mischeaux wistfully recalls the days when he hung around Tucci's house, running errands, serving parties and driving Tucci wherever he wished to go.

"I would do anything for that man, no questions asked," Mischeaux says, "and he would do anything for me."

Arlando Mischeaux
Jennifer Silverberg
Arlando Mischeaux

Mischeaux began working as a busboy at one of Tucci's Pasta House Co. restaurants -- the Flamingo Caf in the Central West End -- in 1983, shortly after graduating from Central High School in North St. Louis. He remembers meeting Tucci months later, in 1984.

"My manager sent me to get a Big Mac and fries. Here we are around all this great food, oysters on the half-shell and stuff like that, and he's sending me out for a Big Mac and fries. I asked him why he wants to do that, and he told me, 'Never mind, just do it.' I told him I took the bus to work, I didn't have a car, and he reached into his pocket and took out his car keys and gave them to me and told me again to go to McDonald's and get a Big Mac and fries. When I got back, I said, 'Who are they for?' He pointed to this guy I didn't know and told me, 'Take them out to that man standing outside.' That was Luther Boykins, and he was talking to another guy. That was Kim [Tucci].

"When I got closer, I heard them talking about this new red Mercedes roadster Kim had just bought ... Kim said he bought it because he liked the color. I decided right then that this was a guy I wanted to know."

Soon after that meeting, Mischeaux was catering parties at Tucci's house, where he met some of the city's political heavyweights, including St. Louis Mayor Vincent Schoemehl, state Sen. J.B. "Jet" Banks, and U.S. Rep. Bill Clay (D-1st). It was all very exciting for a youth who grew up at Grand Boulevard and Kossuth Avenue, on the North Side.

"[Tucci] had brought me into his home, and that impressed me," Mischeaux says. His style, his influence in the business community and his influence with politicians also impressed the young busboy.

Tucci agrees that he and Mischeaux became very close. "He was like a son to me," Tucci says. "The guy spent holidays with me and everything."

This unusual father/son relationship began to unravel, however, when Mischeaux got the idea that he was more than a gofer. The seeds of that idea lay in the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport affirmative-action program for disadvantaged business enterprises, companies owned by minorities and women.

A busy airport is a prime location for a restaurant. People have time to kill, and they're hungry, because many flights no longer serve full meals. An airport location is good advertising, too. Millions of people a year pass a restaurant's signs.

At Lambert, as at so many other airports, all the food and beverage concessions are lumped into one large contract and given to a single company. In St. Louis, that company is HMS Host Inc., the nation's largest food-and-beverage-concessions operator. The name-brand restaurants travelers see at Lambert, such as Chili's, Starbucks and Pizza Hut, are operated by Host, which acts as the franchisee for each chain. But when an airport contracts with one concessionaire to provide services, the effect can be to close the airport to smaller and locally based businesses.

In 1997, Host's contract to operate the concessions at Lambert came up for renewal. Using federal affirmative-action regulations, the city negotiated a contract in which Host agreed to subcontract certain food and beverage facilities to certified DBEs. Those facilities were not just kiosks; they included the main restaurant on Concourse D, what Host calls the "anchor facility" for the concourse.

Here was an opportunity for Pasta House to get into the airport, if only they could find a DBE to partner with. In early 1997, Tucci pitched the idea to Mischeaux, who by that time had 14 years in the restaurant business. He was the Pasta House's catering supervisor and assistant manager at Mike Shannon's Steaks & Seafood restaurant downtown.

In November 1997, with Tucci's direction and the help of the Pasta House's attorneys, the firm of Deeba Sauter Herd, Mischeaux registered Arlando Inc. with the Missouri Secretary of State's office. For $255, Mischeaux received 255 shares of the company's stock. Tucci, John Ferrara (now deceased) and Joe Fresta, the three Pasta House owners, each received 81.67 shares of stock, making Mischeaux the majority owner with 51 percent of the total stock. The new company's articles of incorporation and bylaws specified that it would be run by a board of directors of one, and on Nov. 19, 1997, the four shareholders elected Mischeaux as that director.

Tucci then arranged a $200,000 loan to Mischeaux from the Pasta House's bankers at Union Planters Bank. That was to serve as Mischeaux's contribution to Arlando Inc.'s start-up capital. Tucci also had Mischeaux sign a franchise application.

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