Local restaurateur receives once-in-a-lifetime recognition

By Bill Milligan, For the Call

Telegraph Road’s best-known restaurateur capped the 30th anniversary of his business with once-in-a-lifetime recognition from statewide peers.

The Missouri Restaurant Association has named Bill Gianino one of its Restaurateurs of the Year, a distinction that only can be granted once. He will be honored this Saturday in Kansas City during the association’s 2006 Inaugural Ball.

“They give the award for years in business, involvement in the community, charitable work. First of all you you have to belong to the Missouri Restaurant Association. I’ve belonged forever,” said Gianino, who served as president of the association in 2002.

Gianino has operated Bill Gianino’s Restaurant at 4571 Chestnut Park Plaza at Telegraph and Yaeger roads since 1975, all but four years of his career.

Asked if there is any benefit that goes with the association’s award like the Oscars, Gianino said “I might come up with something midyear, probably a new pasta dish, to commemorate the award.”

Gianino began his career in 1971 on Creve Coeur Mill Road. That first restaurant was a carryout pizzeria, which he sold in 1975.

“In Maryland Heights we had pizzas and salads, pickup and delivery,” Gianino said. “I always lived south. I grew up on the Hill. When I got married, I moved to South County. I wanted to get closer to home. I was living off of Pottle and watched this plaza being built. It was a couple of years old when I came here.

“I wish I would have had some money and bought some ground up and down Telegraph Road back in 1975,” he said.

That facility began as a takeout pizzeria, Gianino said. Through long hours and hard work, the pizzeria grew into a full restaurant.

“I saw the area growing and the need for a bigger menu and more choice,” he said. “When I opened Frankie G’s in 1992 there was nothing in the area like what we have. It offered a different atmosphere and attracted a different clientele.”

He points to others as the reason for his success.

“We wouldn’t be here 30 years without great help and an outstanding customer base,” he said. “I’ve probably had very little to do with us being here for 30 years. Our manager, Julie Lang, has been with us 30 years. Our chef, Tom Gross, has been here 18 years.

“We’re going to recognize our employees who have been with us 10 years or longer the night I receive the award. We have 25 employees between these two restaurants coming that night. And I can’t have all of them there, or who would watch the business.”

Employees will receive a plaque and a pin.

“It’s not real hard to make good food,” Gianino said. “First of all, you buy good ingredients. Then you hire good servers and people that have talent to make good food. Today, there are a ton of people who can do that. But that’s not enough anymore. Today it’s about the customer service. That comes from training and talking to your customers.

“There’s things that the customer wants, that’s why we have customer comment cards on the table ever so often. Some of their comments are very good. You have to pay attention to all of these things.”

The Missouri Restaurant Association assists restaurateurs with issues in Columbia, Kansas City, Springfield and Jefferson City, and last year helped local restaurants fight St. Louis County’s proposed smoking ban.

“We all get together a couple times a year and air out our concerns and see what we need to do to strengthen our business and our organization,” he said.

Gianino said his industry understands the impact that casinos have on restaurants.

“Casinos make it hard on our labor picture,” he said. “They are big. They can offer more than we can, so you’ll see some people jumping ship.

“A lot of people in our industry have realized that all that glitters is not gold,” Gianino said. “The casinos will over hire. They’ll hire 1,000 more people than they need. After they open, they’ll start weeding people out. People in our industry have learned that, so a lot of the best people don’t jump ship quite as fast as they did when casinos first came.

“They offer them health insurance, life insurance and all that other stuff. Shortly after that, they find out they don’t need them. When that casino downtown opens up they’re going to hire several thousand people. They’ve got to come from somewhere. If everybody loses a half-dozen people, it hurts,” he said.

“You spend a lot of money training people. To add that number to the ones who don’t show up for work, or don’t work out it will aggravate your costs. It’s no different than another business,” he said. “Some days it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, other days it’s ‘God, I want out of here.”’