Vincent J. Bommarito
Jim Poris - December 2002
Food Arts presents the December 2002 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Vincent J. Bommarito, who, in 53 years at the helm of Tony's, has unwaveringly steered his family's St. Louis restaurant from a modest spaghetti house to a lofty anchorage as one of the nation's most sought out and respected fine dining institutions. Bommarito has fashioned Tony's into the preeminent example of an Italian steakhouse, offering well-groomed dishes of Italian-American favorites like veal rib chop with eggplant Parmigiano and grilled scampi and lobster tail with mustard sauce plus such stalwart grilled crowd pleasers as prime sirloin steak diavola and prime rack of lamb. All of Tony's dishes encourage a partner from a label-dropping wine list that has been recognized by a Best of Award of Excellence designation from Wine Spectator.
"People always ask me, 'Who's the toughest customer you ever had?'," says Bommarito. "And I answer, 'I never had a tough customer. You just look him in the eye and bring him what he wants.'"
And does he ever get the royal treatment! Bommarito has divided his 36 table dining room into six mini domaines, each attended to by a white-tied captain, a beverage server, and a food waiter. The components to many of the dishes are delivered on silver trays to a two-burner gueridon, on which they are assembled with pomp and precision before rapt diners. With its insistence on a dress code—"coats for men, a place where a woman can wear that special designer suit"—Tony's sits at the epicenter of St. Louis' social and business life. Indeed, Bommarito has made his restaurant a place for the likes of himself, since his civic activities have involved him in everything from the St. Louis Zoo to the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Bureau, and he has sat as a director of many local banks and clubs. No surprise, then, that Tony's handles foodservice for the private suites ringing the football field at Edward D. Jones Stadium, home of the St. Louis Rams.
"We never had a business plan for Tony's, so to speak," says Bommarito, who was a high school student in 1949 when his father passed away and his mother encouraged him to run her three year old restaurant. At the time, fine dining in St. Louis was confined to private clubs, but by constantly upgrading Tony's—"We just kept making improvements to the building, the dining room, and to the ingredients, which are the freshest and the finest you can find"—Bommarito helped bring social life out into view. "In the late 1950s, we closed for lunch so we could concentrate on the evening, since being downtown, that was when we did our prime business."
A member of the DiRoNA Hall of Fame, Bommarito still serves as Tony's CEO, working the floor three nights a week and overseeing wine purchasing by day. All other responsibilities he's passed on to his three sons—Vincent P., the executive chef; Anthony, vice president of purchasing; and James, the dining room manager.
"You know, I've never had a day in my life when I didn't want to work," Bommarito says. "I have intense pride in what I do." The results speak for themselves.