Remembering one “The Loop’s” best: “Riddles Penultimate Cafe & Wine Bar”


Harley Hammerman, Special For the St. Louis Jewish Light

There is an amazing website called Lost Tables, dedicated to celebrating the restaurants of our past. We are partnering with the site’s creator Harley Hammerman and celebrating these wonderful stories. Hammerman and his wife Marlene are members of Shaare Emeth.

Andy Ayers was born in Overland. As a toddler, his family moved to Bridgeton, where he grew up and attended Pattonville High School.

Ayers restaurant career began at the age of 16. He was hired as a busboy at the Howard Johnson’s restaurant on North Lindbergh. On all-you-can-eat fried chicken nights, he was required to walk through the restaurant with a box of chicken strapped around his neck. He eventually became a senior busboy and then a waiter.

Ayers dropped out of high school during his junior year, fleeing to Canada to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War. From Canada, he went to Guatemala with a girlfriend, finally returning home to deal with the draft a year later.

Ayers was granted conscientious objector status. He was assigned to two years of civilian alternative service at the University of Missouri-Columbia’s Medical School kitchen and the Boone County Commodity Foods Warehouse.

The Start Of A Career

After finishing his service obligation, Ayers went to work at Calico’s on Laclede Street. He quickly became the kitchen manager at the startup restaurant, and when the owners bought a second restaurant, Ayers became the manager at both locations. A few courses at Forest Park Community College furthered his knowledge of running a restaurant.

About this time, Ayers met and married his wife Paula – he was 22 and she was 16. Very shortly thereafter, they had their first of three daughters.

In November of 1980, Andy and Paula Ayers bought a failing pizza restaurant at 8418 Natural Bridge, across from the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus and next door to the Bel-Nor Police Station. The little building and police station remain.

The couple named their new restaurant “Riddles” after Paula’s grandmother.

“My wife’s grandmother was Riddle. She had been in food service all her life and was a neat old lady. She lived to be 103,” said Ayers. “When you get your own restaurant, it’s a monumental decision what to name it. We didn’t want to use our own names. I’ve seen it too often where people lose control over their names when they sell the business. We wanted it to be personal and Riddles Restaurant rolls off the tongue.”

Riddles Restaurant

Riddles Restaurant seated about 30, including a few seats at the counter. It was open for lunch and dinner. In addition to pizza, the initial menu offered salads, pasta, sandwiches and beer, later expanding to include chicken and veal dishes.

The motto on the Riddles menu read, “Fresh Ingredients Means Good Eating.” Ayers sold locally grown produce and meat long before it became fashionable.

In June of 1985, Andy and Paula Ayers relocated their restaurant to 6307 Delmar in University City. The more central location in the Delmar Loop had previously housed Bobby’s Creole. In addition to occupying a larger space, the eatery also sported a larger moniker – Riddles Penultimate Cafe & Wine Bar.

“I’m not sure exactly why,” Ayers responded when asked about the “penultimate” designation. “I think I may have another restaurant in me, somewhere down the line, and maybe I want to be emotionally prepared for another move someday.”

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