St. Louis Standards: Monte Bello is a slice of pizza history | Food and Beverage News | Saint Louis
When Tanya Buechel wants to illustrate how much her restaurant, Pizzeria Monte Bello (3662 Weber Road, 314 638-8861), means to people, she tells one of her longtime clients. The regular, an elderly man, had taken his wife many years ago to Monte Bello for their first date, and the couple have made it a tradition to come every year on their anniversary to celebrate . This year, however, he arrived alone on their special day.
“This year his wife passed away,” Buechel said. “He said to me, ‘I always come here for our anniversary of having Monte Bello. It’s so good that we’re that place for him. We’ve been here for him, and he has all these fond memories of the place. It is what it is – you come here, and we treat you like family. People really like it, and you don’t get that in a lot of places.”
Stories like this are as much a part of Monte Bello as their pizza — a phenomenon Buechel has witnessed since she and her husband, Dennis, took over the beloved restaurant Lemay in 2020. However, the Buechels knew well the traditions of the pizzeria long before signing the papers to become its owners; in fact, their own history with the place is what prompted them to become its stewards in the first place. A lifelong resident of Lemay, Buechel and her family were the kind of multi-generational regulars she now serves every day, and her experiences at the pizzeria were a fundamental part of her childhood. and my family went to Monte Bello,” says Buechel. “There was the jukebox in the back that I always had to play with, the cigarette machine, the beer and the canned sodas. So many customers tell me they had their first date here a while ago. is 60 or they came after prom or championship games.. There was a Stoop Brothers behind us, and the guys who worked third shift would come in for beer and pizza when they got off work because we were open very late. It was a happening place at the time.
As a teenager, Buechel was putting coins in the jukebox, and Monte Bello was already firmly entrenched in the heart of the Lemay community. Founded in 1953 on the site of a former bar called Buck’s Tavern, the pizzeria was a dream come true for the Petrillos, a family of Sicilian immigrants who owned and operated the place until 1964. When they were ready to leave the business, the Petrillos sold Monte Bello to husband and wife Ed and Peggy Morgan; as Buechel recounts, the Morgans never divorced but went their separate ways over the years, with Peggy taking over most of the operations in the early 2000s. Around this time, Peggy’s son Tommy temporarily shut down the restaurant to make repairs and helped her mother manage things for several years.
When Tommy left the company in 2018, Peggy contacted Buechel and asked if she would help him run things. A seasoned industry professional and long-time customer, Buechel agreed and quickly became the de facto operator of the place as Peggy grew too old to handle the day-to-day affairs – though that didn’t stop her from get started.
“She would come downstairs to cut vegetables, clean the floors, clean the bathrooms, always saying she was so sorry that she couldn’t help more,” Buechel said. “She would sneak up on me because she was so small, but you’d know she was here because of the smell of Pine-Sol she used to clean. We got really close and she was like a grandmother to me. advice on kids, marriage, and life in general because she had experience with all of that. She was a sassy woman, and I feel like I don’t not having had enough time with her.
When Peggy passed away in 2020, the Buechels realized they had a choice: either take over Monte Bello themselves or watch it close and become another restaurant memory in St. Louis. The thought of the latter was unbearable to them, so the couple made the decision with their family to buy the restaurant. In April 2021, they signed the papers and became the official owners of Monte Bello, determined to carry on the legacy of a place that has meant so much to them over the years.
The Buechels understand their role as guardians of Monte Bello and are fiercely loyal to the restaurant’s traditions. They use the same metal deck ovens that have been there for as long as they can remember, the same recipes and even the same pasta board that has been part of the restaurant since the 1960s – a wooden piece made by a child local in its class of store that can hold exactly 99 dumplings. The old tablecloths are the same, as are the vintage metal pizza trays; both are no longer in production and cannot be reordered should anything happen to them.
The Buechels know that touches like these are part of Monte Bello’s charm, and they try to balance any changes they make with a desire to respect the touches that have defined the restaurant over the years. Tanya Buechel admits it’s a battle sometimes. “We get new flooring, and customers say, ‘No!’ she laughs. “I tell them it’s peeling. Pieces of tiles and cement appear when we sweep and wipe. Some people hate change, but he needs it. If Monte Bello is to be here for another 70 years, it must be taken care of.”
One thing the Buechels will never change is pizza. While they can’t definitively confirm it, there are rumors in the local pizza circuit that Monte Bello may be the birthplace of St. Louis-style pizza. If it wasn’t the first, Buechel is pretty sure it’s the oldest St. Louis-style pizzeria still in operation, an interesting treat considering a key ingredient his pies are missing.
“We have never used Provel and never will,” Buechel says. “I like it, I have nothing against it. This pizza just doesn’t need it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
A legion of Monte Bello pizza fanatics agrees: Recently, the Pizza Connoisseurs Facebook group, a local authority on all things pizza, crowned it the best pizza in the St. Louis metro area. The wink brought new business to the restaurant, which the Buechels say has always been a challenge given the basement’s off-the-beaten-track location. The new accolades have been great, but the couple notes that the thing they’re most proud of about Monte Bello has nothing to do with the food.
“It’s the customer relationships,” says Dennis Buechel. “We get a lot of messages that say the pizza is phenomenal, but the ones that I take a little more to heart are the ones that tell us things like, ‘The girl serving us let my daughter color on the special board.’ As much as I love cooking great food, I love going out and talking to customers more.”
Tanya Buechel agrees. “This place has so many generations coming here,” she adds. “People will tell me that their mom threw their baby shower for them here, and now they’re bringing their own kids. We love it, and we’re going to keep doing it until we can’t keep doing it anymore. And then hopefully we pass it on to our kids so they can carry on the tradition and hopefully make the Petrillo family proud to have created a place, and it’s still going strong after 100 years.”
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