During our annual baseball trip to St. Louis earlier this summer, our group (my wife, our friends Scott and Marcia, and myself) met up for lunch with my friend who works for the St. Louis Rams. We decided to try a place that I learned about after writing the entry on Dave and Tony's Premium Burger Joint in the St. Louis suburb of Creve Coeur, MO (click here to see that entry). One of the owners of Dave and Tony's is the grandson of St. Louis entrepreneur/restaurateur Lester Miller, the man who owns Lester's Restaurant and Sports Bar in the Ladue area of St. Louis. I was sort of intrigued reading about Lester's that I suggested we all go there for lunch.
Lester Miller's back story is pretty amazing. He rose from the dirty streets of New York where he sold papers for a 2 cents, to becoming a caterer at the age of 14, at the age of 17 he landed a job as a sales rep for a company selling cleaning and sanitation products.
Miller's company sent him to St. Louis on sales calls in his early 20's and he immediately fell in love with the city. He fell in love with a St. Louis girl and was married when he was 23. He and his first wife had seven kids - a boy, then six girls - and Miller started a business - supplying condoms in gas station restroom vending machines. He eventually started a company that made the condoms, but he also had a restroom cleaning service on the side.
His big break in business came when a friend introduced him to someone from a plastics company that was in the process of developing a thin-walled plastic bottle. Miller found that the new bottle design could hold toilet-bowl cleaner without shattering and splashing cleaning acid everywhere. He and his friend partnered to make cleaning products contained in the new plastic bottles.
Recognizing the low cost of production in Japan, Miller had the products made overseas. The company eventually became Contico Plastics and developed the first trigger sprayer for household cleaners. He imported cleaning bottles from Japan, then Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan changing factories whenever he could get a better deal.
Miller found out that Union Carbide was wanting to sell its plastics division. He made a cursory offer of $800,000 and they countered with $1,000,000. Miller didn't have a million dollars, let alone $800,000. But he scraped up enough money from banks and investors and bought the plastics division. For years, Contico was undercapitalized, but they eventually began to make money. Miller eventually sold Contico and related companies in 1999 and 2000 for $350,000,000.
In 2000, Miller was approached by four men looking to buy land that Miller owned in Springfield, MO to build a plant to make high-industrial batteries for cellphone towers. Miller took a look at the deal and instead of selling the property, he invested $35,000,000 in the company. In 2007, Miller and the minor partners sold NorthStar Batteries to an equity firm for an estimated $250,000,000.
Miller was also a land developer and owned tracts of lands in Florida and Georgia, as well as in and around the St. Louis area. He got into the restaurant business in 2005 when one of his favorite restaurants - Busch's Grove - had closed, fallen into disrepair and was scheduled to be demolished for a boutique shopping center. He bought the building, spent millions of dollars on the renovations and reopened in December of 2005. (Miller sold Busch's Grove and it is now closed.)
In 2007, Lester Miller opened his eponymous restaurant - an upscale sports bar that featured New York-style deli sandwiches and barbecue - on Clayton Road in Ladue. He outfitted the place with memorabilia and commissioned a six and a half foot statue of his good friend and former St. Louis Cardinals great Stan Musial in front of the place.
Pictured right - Lester Miller in front of the original Lester's Restaurant and Sports Bar in Ladue with the statue of Stan Musial over his left shoulder.
Miller opened a second location in west suburban Chesterfield in 2008 and a third Lester's location opened in the Central West End in 2011. However, he closed the Chesterfield location in the fall of 2014 and the Central West End location closed just a few weeks after. But the Ladue location is still going strong.
We met up with my friend around 1:00 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon at Lester's on Clayton Road in a small shopping mall that abutted up to I-64/40 Highway. (see map) I'd been by the place, well, dozens of times over the past few years and never knew it was there. We found our friend in the bar area just inside the front door of Lester's waiting on us. The bar area was rather large and featured a number of flat panel televisions. The place sort of looked classy for a sports bar.
The hostess took us into the main dining area that featured a number of tables in the middle with booths along the outer walls. An open kitchen was situated in the back of the dining area. Sports memorabilia hung on the walls along with flat screen televisions hanging high throughout the room. We were given menus to check out and ordered up some drinks.
Lester Miller wanted authenticity when it came to his meats at his restaurant. His head chef was sent to New York City to learn the art of smoking and preparing meats from the person who once ran the famous Carnegie Deli. The meat is brined and smoked in-house daily over applewood chips. They make everything from scratch at Lester's from the bread used in their sandwiches, to the salad dressings, to the sides, and to the baby back ribs that are smoked nearly 5 hours daily. It was no wonder I was having a lot of trouble figuring out what to get.
I really wanted to try a deli sandwich, but the barbecue offerings on the menu were calling my name, as well. It's not that I didn't think that I'd ever be back to Lester's. It's just that everything sounded pretty damned good and I wanted to try a couple of things.
We let everyone order up before I ordered a pastrami on rye with Swiss cheese. They have two sizes of sandwiches - a regular and a colossal. I went with the regular sized and by looking at the picture below left one can almost imagine what a colossal sized sandwich would look like. I also asked the server if I could try some of the beef brisket that they had as part of their barbecue menu. He said that he could come up with a 3 ounce plate of brisket. That would be perfect! I just wanted a taste of the brisket, not a whole meal.
Cindy was as much in a quandary about what to get. She wasn't overly hungry, but she knew she needed to get something. She saw something on the appetizer menu - the deli slider combo - that was a sampling of the corned beef and pastrami sandwiches. When the server set the plate down in front of her, she realized that may have been a mistake. They were four small sandwiches - two each of the pastrami and corned beef. We could have easily gotten this for ourselves. She was a tad embarrassed when she realized what it really was that she ordered and I told her that we could get what she didn't get to go and take it back to put in the fridge in our hotel room.
I have to say that my sandwich was very good. I'm a sucker for good pastrami and this was some of the finest pastrami that I've ever had. It was tender and had a great beef taste with a hint of pepper and not a lot of salt. The beef had some good marbling, but it was overly fatty or greasy. The rye bread was equally impressive with the laste of fresh caraway seeds throughout.
The brisket was equally as good as the pastrami. It was lean and tender with a small smoke ring around the edge. The spices they use as a rub on the brisket helped enhance the overall taste of the beef. This was some excellent brisket.
The other thing that was pretty good on my plate was the cole slaw. It had a good creamy and vinegary taste and the cabbage was crunchy and fresh. It was some of the better cole slaw that I've ever had.
We spent a good portion of the afternoon at Lester's catching up with what had been going on with my friend. The staff was very accommodating, allowing us to sit there for nearly two and a half hours before we realized how much time had passed and we needed to get going to the ball game. The pastrami sandwich and the brisket at Lester's was surprisingly very good to excellent. I'm worried about restaurants that have an extensive menu, but what I had at Lester's was all good. I can't believe that I haven't tried Lester's before this visit and it certainly won't be the last time I go there.