Down and out in St. Louis

D&WSnackShop779

Restaurants for those short of money are not always hospitable places like those I wrote about in my last post about community restaurants that feed the poor. The photo above looks unfriendly to me. Diners like it are often viewed through a haze of nostalgia that softens the edges – but that’s not how I see it.

I know this place though I’ve never been there, probably never even seen it before. I used to wait for a bus on a desolate corner in St. Louis, the city where I bought this photograph at a yard sale for 5¢. There sat a diner much like this one. My feet and hands might turn to ice from the cold winter wind on that corner but it never would have occurred to me to go inside to warm up. That’s how uninviting it was.

STLBrains25cWmStageIt had no parking lot. Probably, like me then, its patrons didn’t have cars. Assuming there were any patrons, that is. I don’t remember any. The location was a no-man’s land where nobody lived or spent any more time than they had to. Down the street was a place selling Brains, 25¢. A photo of it by William Stage has achieved a measure of fame. As an image I like it, but as a place to eat or hang out, no.

The photograph of the snack shop exudes a Not Welcome feeling. Mean-spirited signs warn “No loitering,” “No shoes, no shirt, no service, ” and “Relish, 10¢ extra.” Did people try to make a free meal out of relish?

All the menu cards posted on the walls are homemade by someone who lacked both lettering skill and a good, dark marking pen. There are other signs of neglect and failure. Stale looking pies, poorly wrapped. Jumbled electrical cords behind the milkshake machine. A sales tax cheat sheet taped on the cash register. A kitchen passthrough no longer in use. Because they fired the cook?

I’m guessing that the photograph dates from the late 1970s. The prices are not especially low for then . . . considering how unwonderful the fare must have been. Three Pieces Chicken, French Fries, Cole Slaw, 2.99. Baconburger, 1.95. As though they couldn’t decide the most basic pricing dilemma: 99¢ or 95¢.

I haven’t been able to learn much about the D&W Snack Shop whose name I guessed despite the Pepsi clock that awkwardly hides part of it. It was a Missouri chain incorporated in the mid-1950s.

I found a nice night scene photo of the exterior of a D&W in South St. Louis on Cherokee and California (in a fascinating blog on bricks). It could even be the same place.

© Jan Whitaker, 2014

12 Comments

Filed under food, history, restaurants

12 responses to “Down and out in St. Louis

  1. This particular story does not seem to be the reason for your current interest in restaurants. :)

  2. Thanks. Pleased to have found your blog. Interesting subject matter. Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox.

  3. It seems that some restaurants may have been particularly unfriendly during the hard times of the Great Depression. In John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath, a waitress expresses her dislike for migrant workers because they often can’t afford the food, and then says she doesn’t like tourists either, calling them “shitheels.” Instead, she prefers the flirtatious truck drivers who have money to spend. When the father of the migrant family asks her to sell him a loaf of bread, she refuses, saying they only sell sandwiches. (Happily, the short order cook asks her to sell them a loaf of bread, which she does for ten cents, adding two pieces of candy for a penny, below the actual cost of a nickel.)

  4. Darrell DuBois

    That picture of the sign was where an old diner in St. Louis used to serve Brain sandwiches and brains and eggs. It has long since been gone but remains a little icon of our past. Oh, it did have a drive through so yes there were always cars. I remember it well into the 1970′s.
    While you’re ‘grilling’ (pun intended) our little city you should also mention a few other St. Louis originals such as Pork Steaks. No backyard in St. Louis would be without pork steaks being grilled and served with a big slathering of BBQ sauce. We also created Toasted Ravioli down on an area we affectionatly call The Hill. “The Hill” refers to an area in South St. Louis that has several Italian restaurants, bakeries etc.. On any weekend you will wait as long as an hour to get a table. The Hill is birthplace and boyhood home to several baseball greats including Hall of Famer Joe Garagiola and his family. Joe himself may have been in the restaurant when a few ravioli fell into the hot oil by mistake and created a food legend that is served in countless restaurants as an appetizer.
    Speaking of “yukky” food don’t forget we have Pickled Pigs Feet as well as Tripe. I do not care for tripe but I can tell you that it is pieces of the stomach lining of a cow that is usually cut and then sliced into strips. It was a staple sold mostly in the old days in African American stores.
    Suddenly I’m not even hungry anymore. LOL Guess I’ll settle for an Ice Cream Cone which we also claim to have invented at the 1904 Worlds Fair.
    And no, I was not there!

    • Darrell, I’m very familiar with all those things (at least theoretically in the case of pigs’ feet and tripe). I grew up in St. Louis and ate my share of pork steaks! I also remember the guys in Wellston I used to drive by who set up in empty lots on Friday afternoons cooking BBQ on half a steel drum. Cheers!

      • eaglgrp@aol.com

        You got my attention again. When I was a kid (maybe 8 or 9 years old) we would take the street-car (trolley) from my big brothers house to Wellston to see the matinee movie (usually a western) for .25 cents. There was a 5 & dime called Kresge’s that sold ‘hot nuts’. You could smell them the minute you opened the door – WOW. Spent many a Saturday doing that while my mom or sister would go shopping along that strip which had many shops. Cheers back at ya!

  5. Gary Gillman

    Interesting! Well, it could have been a play on words, or maybe the place just did specialize in brains with no connection to the owners’ surname. Don’t think I’ve ever had them and I think I’ll stay away. :)

    Gary

    • Darrell DuBois

      This is one of the reasons I love this site. It’s great to get info about restaurant and food history from other cities. It’s also handy if you’re planing a trip somewhere.
      Great job from everyone! Keep ‘em coming cause it’s fun reading.

    • Same here. Somebody must have eaten them, but for most people it was just a bit of St. Louis lore.

  6. Gary Gillman

    Great history there. I suspect Brains was the name of the diner and 25 cents was the typical cost of the dishes, a la Woolworths 5 & 10. Brains is a surname known for example in Wales, where a noted family brewery produces beer under that name. (Classic ad slogan: “It’s Brains you want”).

    Gary

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