In 1977, Sam Andria purchased a small white-frame house on 4 acres off Old Collinsville Road. A year later, the former bar and liquor store owner and his wife Mary "Mugs" Andria opened Andria's Steak House.
He ran the kitchen. She was the hostess.
Thirty-four years later, the restaurant is bigger and the road is busier, but the draw remains the same: hand-cut steaks prepared with one-of-a-kind Andria's Steak Sauce.
"It's an extension of our home," said daughter Maureen Andria Kenison. "We invite people here and make them welcome. That's what our parents strived for."
Larry Kenison was one of Sam's first hires in the kitchen. He married Maureen in 1980, and they now run the restaurant along with their son Max. Sam and Mugs, both 84, are retired. Another owner, long-time employee Haruko Wilson, is semiretired.
"Sam loved to go out to eat and he cooked a lot," said Larry of his father-in-law's motivation to start the restaurant. "He also was a musician, a very creative person. He had this understanding of how food should go together."
A lot has changed over the decades, while some things remain the same.
With soft lighting, muted earthtone decor and white linens covering the tables, the dining room, which seats 115, was added on to the little house in 1996. It is the most recent of four renovations done to expand, reconfigure and improve the family business.
It's quite an improvement said Larry, 58. Tables covered in placemats or vinyl cloth once filled odd corners and alcoves in the home-turned-restaurant. The original kitchen was so small that a second one was created out of space in the basement near where the bar was located.
"Everybody was drinking and smoking and we were carrying prime rib and potatoes up and down the stairs," said Larry, shaking his head.
The kitchen gauged how much food to cook in those first years by asking the hostess.
"I'd ask Mugs how many people were in the bar and how many people were waiting by the door," he said. "Then we'd know how much to prepare. One night she told me there were 75 people in the bar." The dining room seated 36 back then.
Today, everything is on one floor. The bottling of the steak sauce, which used to be done in the kitchen, was moved in 1985 to its own building on the property. They produce about 500 cases a week.
"The sauce has been around since Day 1," Larry said. The secret recipe was created by Sam and is sold online and to local retailers.
Larry and Maureen's son, Max, 26, is the dining room manager, who started off bussing tables and working in the kitchen. "I've worked here since I was 12," he said.
Larry's brother, Kenny, has been the kitchen manager for more than a quarter of a century and gets an assist from Derek Sprehe. Pearl Schaefer has been making the desserts for more than three decades.
Add together the wait staff's years of service and it easily hits triple digits.
"Somebody from the family is always here," said Larry.
Maureen, 57, said they are proud of their ability to preserve an independent, family-owned business where food is prepared from scratch in their kitchen.
"You strive to honor the past and heritage. You stay true to who you are, but keep an eye on trends. You commit to working together."
Rethinking menu items while maintaining classics has been an important aspect of drawing customers.
"People are trying to eat healthier," said Larry, who now offers seafood, such as lobster turnovers, grilled swordfish and tuna, and "experiments with new sides, like roasted Brussels sprouts."
Grilled shrimp with roasted red pepper sauce ($12.95) is part of the appetizer menu. Broiled Salmon with Dill Sauce ($21.95) is among the seafood selections.
But most customers come to Andria's for their steaks, such as the 8-ounce filet mignon for $27.95 (or 12-ounce for $36.95) and the 24-ounce standing prime rib, trimmed and served with au jus and horseradish ($36.95). A 16-ounce ribeye ($27.95) has just been added, and grilled chicken and pork chops also are on the menu. All dinners include potato and salad, and side vegetables are available.
Steaks, and some of the other entrees are prepared with Andria's Steak Sauce, but can be made without it.
Desserts vary and might include Lemon-Berry Marscapone Cake, Pecan Fudge Brownie and Pumpkin Spice Cake ($6.95 each).
Some things never change, though.
"I enjoy it still," said Larry. "It's very, very challenging. I still look forward to coming to work."
Andria's Steak House
6805 Old Collinsville Road, O'Fallon
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays
Information: 632-4886 or andrias.com
Reservations: Accepted Mondays through Fridays; Saturdays only for parties of 10 or more with $100 deposit