Lost Tables | Remembering Redel’s

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HARLEY HAMMERMAN, SPECIAL FOR THE JEWISH LIGHT

Ever wondered what happened to that restaurant you once loved and have memories of dining at with your family and friends? We did! 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, and she is past president of the National Council of Jewish Women of St. Louis.   Visit Lost Tables on Facebook


Lee Redel grew up in Vinita Park and graduated from Normandy High School. He worked his way through an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in communications at Southern Illinois University by waiting tables. Then he taught for a time before realizing that food was his true love.

Redel worked as a part-time bartender at Herbie’s, where he met Herb and Adalaide Balaban, who gave him a job as front house-manager at Balaban’s. He did the hiring and set up the parties for Balaban’s from 1979 to June of 1985. When Redel left Balaban’s, he traveled extensively, with an eye toward opening a moderately priced restaurant of his own.

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John Rice got his start in the restaurant business in the early 1980s at Balaban’s; he was a maître d’ in the front of the house. That’s where he met Lee Redel. While at Balaban’s, Rice was approached by Kim Tucci, who asked Rice to run his Pasta House restaurant at DeBaliviere and Pershing. After working there for a couple of years, Rice bought the location from Tucci, with an eye toward opening his own restaurant there.

During Lee Redel’s travels, he came upon a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in San Francisco with fat crayons on paper covered tables. He watched business people coloring during their lunches and saw their drawings hanging on the wall.

Redel was intrigued by the concept. He liked the idea of paper on tables because it was very European. He wanted a restaurant that would appeal to little people as well as senior citizens, and thought drawing would give children something to do while their parents enjoyed a drink.

So, Lee Redel transported fat crayons and paper covered tables to John Rice’s newly purchased building at DeBaliviere and Pershing. In December of 1985, Redel and Rice opened Redel’s restaurant in the former Pasta House space.

Redel’s was busy from the moment it opened its doors; most nights customers had to wait to be seated. It was a fun place, with personality, character and very good food.

Rice had studied architecture and selected a look that utilized elements of post-modern and art deco for the new restaurant, including lots of chrome and glass. Rice and Redel contacted local galleries and asked them to hang art on the restaurant’s walls on a rotating basis. Eventually, the work of eight artists was displayed at any given time. Rice also began collecting antique radios, which filled Redel’s every nook.

And, of course, there were white paper table coverings with boxes of crayons at each table for doodling or for creating masterpieces to hang on “The Great Wall of Redel’s.” The wall, the east end of the L-shaped restaurant, was literally layered with crayon art, which had been created by neighborhood professional artists and other well-fed customers.

Read the rest of the story of Redel’s on LostTables.com.