For St. Louisans of a certain age, Stan Musial was almost as famous for his restaurant as he was for what he could do with a baseball bat. Musial and his business partner, Julius “Biggie” Garagnani operated a steakhouse near Musial’s residence. In 1949 Musial bought a half share of Biggie’s Steak House and they changed the name to Stan Musial and Biggie’s.
Stan Musial had a storied career in St. Louis. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969, and spent his whole career with the Cardinals. In 1947 he even played with a failing appendix. He lived a very public life both during and after his baseball career. His various businesses contributed to that public life, but they also made him wealthy.
Stan Musial and Biggie’s locations and history
Originally the restaurant was on 6435 Chippewa Street, the old U.S. Route 66, about four blocks east of the fabled Ted Drewes’ Frozen Custard. Stan Musial and Biggie’s menu featured steaks, prime rib, Italian fare, and seafood.
Garagnani sold Musial his share in the restaurant for $25,000, the equivalent of $261,000 in 2017 dollars. He didn’t do it because the restaurant was hurting for money. Garagnani expected Musial’s name would be good for business. His hunch was correct. Within a few years, Musial was earning $40,000 a year from the restaurant, the equivalent of over $370,000 in 2017 dollars. For a time in the mid 1950s they owned four restaurants together.
In 1960 the restaurant moved about four miles north to a new, greatly expanded location at 5130 Oakland Avenue, across from Forest Park. The first floor featured Musial memorabilia in the lobby and the second floor had a large banquet room. Musial would frequent both locations, signing autographs and giving free meals to anyone who could prove they were from his hometown of Donora, Pennsylvania.
The businesses thrived into the 1970s, but ran aground as an aging Musial withdrew more and more from the day to day operations. Their sons, Dick Musial and Jack Garagnani, were not as successful at running the businesses as their fathers had been.
Stan Musial and Biggie’s ran into financial trouble in the 1980s. An ill-fated format change to French food and heightened competition in the area led to a $3 million operating loss in 1984. But it was another problem that led to the restaurant closing for good on December 24, 1986.
I hope you like long stories. Because this is one of them.
Biggie Garagnani – the “Biggie” in Stan Musial and Biggie’s
Julius “Biggie” Garagnani was the son of an Italian immigrant miner. Born in 1913, he grew up on The Hill, the same neighborhood where Joe Garagiola and Yogi Berra grew up. In spite of only having a 4th grade education, he was business savvy and very active in St. Louis Democratic politics. Twice he served as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention.
After a few years of running a night club with his brother Mike, Garagnani and their manager, Charles Re, took over Club 66 in 1946. Musial and Garagnani met soon after and became friends. He became a regular at the restaurant, and when Musial bought a home in St. Louis, Garagnani gave him advice. The restaurant business interested Musial, who had a reputation among other Cardinals players as a foodie.
In 1949, Musial asked if he could buy into the business. Garagnani agreed, and the arrangement benefited both of them. Musial’s name was good for business, and it provided Musial an income outside of baseball that would last after his career was over. In the first seven years of the partnership, business increased $100,000 a year every year. They used the profits to expand. Not just opening a bigger location, but opening other lines of business.
Biggie Garagnani died of a heart attack in 1967 at the age of 53. He was buried in Resurrection Cemetery in Affton, just southwest of St. Louis. His widow, Theresa, continued as partner in the restaurant and the other businesses he owned with Musial.
Red Bird Lanes and the demise of Stan Musial and Biggie’s
Musial and Garagnani owned several businesses together. They included a hotel management company that operated hotels in St. Louis and in Florida, and, at various times, other restaurants. But in the end, the most consequential ended up being a bowling alley.
Red Bird Lanes was a 32-lane bowling alley in south St. Louis at 7339 Gravois Avenue, at the busy intersection of Gravois and Hampton just north of River Des Peres. The 40,000 square foot facility was open 24 hours a day, and opened for business in the fall of 1958. It quickly became a popular hangout, and three generations of St. Louisans have memories of it.
Musial and Garagnani’s partner in the bowling alley from the beginning was former Cardinals catcher Joe Garagiola. Garagiola had connections to both men. He and Musial were teammates from 1946 to 1951 on the Cardinals. He wasn’t a baseball superstar, but he thrived as a sportscaster and television personality. Garagnani knew Garagiola when he was a kid. They both grew up on The Hill, the famed Italian neighborhood in south St. Louis.
The crux of the disagreement was accounting practices.
Garagiola sued Musial in April 1986 for mismanagement and requested the companies Musial and Garagnani held be liquidated. They settled out of court eight months later and the restaurant closed. Both families declined to comment. A partnership including an out-of-state company bought the bowling alley in 1986.
The restaurant’s final day of business was Christmas Eve 1986.
Musial was always bitter about the disagreement. The Cardinals arranged for Musial to throw the ceremonial first pitch to Garagiola before Game 3 of the 2006 World Series. Although nearly two decades had passed since their legal wrangling, when Musial learned about the plan, he refused. Ozzie Smith filled in for Musial. Musial then threw out the first pitch for Game 5 instead. Any time Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck wanted to get a rise out of Musial, he would ask him, “Heard from Joe lately?” Musial would respond, “You mean DiMaggio?” And then Buck would respond, “No, Garagiola.” Musial would then go “off like a missile.”
Both Musial and Garagiola saw the trouble in the partnership as a betrayal. Musial found the exposure embarrassing. He spent decades cultivating his public persona, and Garagiola was perhaps the first to ever say anything bad about Musial in public. Musial’s biographer, James Giglio, said in the book Musial: From Stash to Stan the Man the embarrassment likely contributed to his decision to withdraw from the public eye, including closing the restaurant. Musial and Garagiola never reconciled.
Stan Musial and Biggie’s legacy
Stan Musial operated a successful autograph business for the rest of his life but left the hotel and restaurant businesses entirely in the late 1980s. Dick Musial and Jack Garagnani parted ways soon after, pursuing business interests separately.
A doctor’s office stands today on the original site, at 6435 Chippewa street. The final location on Oakland Avenue was demolished to make way for the current main building of the St. Louis Science Center, which opened in 1991.
Red Bird Lanes, the bowling alley that triggered the restaurant’s demise, sold out to Walgreen’s and closed May 7, 1996. It was one of eight St. Louis-area bowling alleys to close between 1994 and 1996. Walgreen’s had pursued the site for about five years and the sale ended a run of 37 1/2 years in business. The bowling alley was demolished and today a Walgreen’s pharmacy stands on the site. A rival CVS is across the street.
Theresa Garagnani died in 2001 at the age of 87. Musial died in 2013, aged 92. Joe Garagiola, their estranged business partner, died in 2016 at the age of 90.
There is a restaurant called Biggie’s at 3332 Watson Road, less than a mile from the original Stan Musial and Biggie’s location. But its namesake is a different Biggie, Mark “Biggie” Preiss. Although its fare has some commonality with the old Stan Musial and Biggie’s, there is no connection other than the co-owner’s nickname and relative geographic proximity.