Local restaurateur Tony Mazzola will soon move his Mungo's from Fairview Heights to the northeast corner of Central Park Plaza and Hartman Lane in O'Fallon. This will not be his first move. He recently sat down to talk about his life in the restaurant business with business writer Will Buss:
Q: When will you open at the new location?
A: "Sometime in September, hopefully, if everything runs smoothly."
Q: Why are you leaving Fairview Heights?
A: "When we first came to this location 12 years ago, it was a great location. As they were building up the O'Fallon-Shiloh area, people had a tendency to stay in that area instead of coming down here. Now, you really notice it with the traffic, especially with Christmas season. We usually had two or three police officers directing traffic here, out in front of Schnucks. Now it's down to one person. You really notice the difference."
Q: How long have you been working in the restaurant business?
A: "For 48 years."
Q: How did it begin?
A: I started off at Andrino's, which is now Dominic's on The Hill. I started two months after my birthday. I started there on Valentine's Day when I was 14 years old. Charlie Mugavero, who was Mungo, was the one who took me under his wing when I was 14 years old and showed me how to be a busboy. When Rich & Charlie's opened its first establishment on 8213 Del Mar in University City, Charlie took me with him. I was the first waiter for him when I was 15 years old."
Q: Did your family work in the business?
A: "My mom and grandma worked at Al's Steakhouse on the waterfront. I worked both jobs and I even quit school for two years and worked at Rich & Charlie's (in St. Louis) during the daytime and worked at Al's Steakhouse at night. But then I went back to school to finish high school. I was the only person in high school who could carry a six-pack to school."
Q: Why did you go into this business?
A: "Charlie was like my big brother. He was my big brother. He taught me the business. He was my mentor. I was next in line to own Rich & Charlie's in Ballwin (in Missouri). Richard had taken care of his two nephews and I was supposed to take over the Ballwin restaurant. But when Charlie went on vacation on his 33rd birthday, he was killed going to Puerta Vallarta in a plane accident with his wife in 1971. And instead of owning the restaurant, Richard and his partners decided that they were going to give me a third of Delmar location (in St. Louis). I stayed for two years but never received any compensation for it and left them. Then I went to Houston, Texas, and opened a restaurant in 1974 and came back to St. Louis after '75 and went into the wholesale produce business. I saved my money and came to Belleville looking to open a business and opened (the first Mungo's) at 4417 W. Main St."
Q: When was that?
A: "In 1983. In December of '89, I moved to Edwardsville and I was before the boom in Edwardsville. I was only there for 14 months. I also had another (Mungo's) on Hartman Lane. I wound up closing the Edwardsville location in 1992 and when I closed that place down, they closed the road (on Hartman Lane). I had two Mungo's, but I closed the one in Edwardsville and six months later I closed the on Hartman Lane."
Q: Then what did you do?
A: "Then I went to Lake Christine in Belleville with a bunch of promises from another guy. That did not work out, and then I went and opened Anthony's on The Hill, where Jefferson's Restaurant is now. Instead of calling it Mungo's, I called it Anthony's after my father. I later closed it. I took a little hiatus and then Johnny Conners got in touch with me about operating Mungo's at King's Point and was there for two years. After that, I took another hiatus and opened this establishment in 2002."
Q: With the new O'Fallon restaurant. how many locations have you operated Mungo's?
Q: After all of these years, what do you enjoy most about this business?
A: "I just love it. When I was 14 years old, my boss Andrino was friends with Harold Gibbons, who was the number four man underneath (Jimmy) Hoffa. At that time we used to do all of the Teamster benefits at places like the Fox Theatre and I got to take care of two of the greatest Italians that ever existed, Rocky Marciano and Frank Sinatra, when I was a teenager. I got to take care of Michael Landon, Mitzi Gaynor, Henry Mancini and Red Schoendienst, Stan Musial and (St. Louis) Mayor (Raymond) Tucker. We used to take care of a lot of important people in St. Louis at that time, like August Busch. It was exciting. It's one the greatest experiences I've had."
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2526.
Name: Tony Mazzola
Job: Owner, Mungo's at 525 Lincoln Highway in Fairview Heights
Outlook: "I just love it."