On Saturday, August 18, City Diner (3139 South Grand Boulevard; 314-772-6100) celebrates its 20th anniversary. An impressive achievement for any business, locally owned or otherwise, City Diner has endured and grown in its South Grand neighborhood, contributing a welcoming, consistent institution slinging damn good diner food. To mark the milestone, owner Peter Spoto and marketing manager Angelo Olegna, along with the restaurant's team, are throwing the City Diner 20th Anniversary Retro Carnival, complete with live music, a dance party, local vendors, a biscuits-and-gravy eating contest, giveaways and prizes and much more.
"City Diner has been a part of my life since I moved to St. Louis," says Olegna. "It inspires me and the small business community, it gives you a lot of hope. If you do it well enough and if you have support you can succeed."
When Spoto opened City Diner in 1992 it was not only in an entirely different community landscape but also situated in a different building - the one next door to its current location, to be exact. Now home to Edward Jones, the building at 3141 South Grand Boulevard that sits beside the current City Diner had greasy spoon history before Spoto purchased it. Once upon a time it was Pearl and Ray's, a diner that served the South Grand neighborhood for many years before closing shop in the late '80s. A regular at nearby Grand Boulevard restaurant Mangia Italiano, Spoto noticed the closure and saw an opportunity to introduce a new kind of dining concept to Grand Boulevard strip.
"I kept passing by this diner; it was empty, but the place was frozen in time," says Spoto. "Salt-and-pepper shakers were still on the table and everything, but it hadn't been open for three years." He purchased the building and opened City Diner in 1992. Then, in 2003, after neighboring Dickmann's Boulevard Bakery closed, Spoto bought the space and expanded City Diner. "We did a gut-rehab," says Spoto. "Edward Jones next door is where City Diner used to be. They took the front half and we took all of the bakery. We went from 85 seats to 240 seats (including the outdoor patio)."
The diner's two-decade history has seen its south city community change tremendously, and though City Diner has evolved as well, Spoto is proud to continue to offer the same high-quality product and all-inclusive environment that's defined the restaurant since the beginning. "I'm very proud of that, that there's some kind of legacy going on here," says Spoto. "We make everything from scratch -- we're making real gravy here, not powdered -- and I feel really happy that I've been able to stick to those kinds of things that made us."
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