Wayne’s Grill

Many of my lunch hours at Trinity Lutheran School were spent in Wayne’s Grill, Beard’s Sport Shop and Vandeven’s Mercantile in the 800 block of Broadway. My folks were good enough to give me permission to leave the schoolgrounds to eat lunch at Wayne’s. A burger and a coke were 35 cents, the same as lunch at school. Add 15 cents and you could get fries. A great coconut cream pie covered with “calf’s slobber,” as Dad called meringue, was two bits.

If Dad took us out in the evening, we would order a bacon-wrapped filet Mignon, the steak against which I have measured every steak thereafter. It was a whole buck and a quarter. I celebrated most of my Saturday Missourian paydays by having one for lunch.

The photo above was taken Sept. 12, 2001, long after Wayne’s had turned into a variety of other businesses. At some point, but I don’t remember when, there was a pool hall in the building.

Original Wayne’s was east of the Esquire

When Brother Mark and I rode by the building Oct. 14, 2007, it had changed appearance again. The marque on the Esquire had fallen down, so the sidewalk was blocked off. You can see more Esquire photos here.

When I first started eating there, Wayne’s was located on the east side of the Esquire theater.

A brief in The Missourian on May 17, 1961, said that “the sale Mrs. Miller’s Cafe, 828 Broadway, to Wayne Freeman has been announced by Mrs. Eva Mae Miller. Mrs. Miller said the sale becomes effective today and she will close the restaurant at the end of tonight’s business.

“Mr. Freeman is owner and operator of Wayne’s Grill, 816 Broadway. Presently, he said he plans to remodel the Miller’s Cafe before reopening it sometime this summer. He will also continue operation of Wayne’s Grill until 1963 when his lease expires. The property was acquired early this year by the Southwestern Bell Telephone Co.

“Mrs. Miller and her late husband, W. B. Miller, bought the cafe six years ago after moving here from Marion,Ill. She plans to devote her time to the operation of her business at the Plaza Cleaners and Coin Wash in the Town Plaza for the present.”

Wayne’s is nothing but memories and parking stops

When I went back to look for Wayne’s in the fall of 2009, it was gone, gobbled up for more parking for Southeast Missouri State University.

Wayne Freeman’s obituary appeared in the paper Feb. 21, 1984. “Wayne E. Freeman, longtime owner of one of the city’s best-known restaraunts, Wayne’s Grill, died Monday, Feb. 20, 1984 following an illness of several months. He was 69 years old.

“Mr. Freeman was born April 7, 1914, in Salem, son of Evan and Ruth Gerhardt Freeman. He married the former Dorothy Pregner. Mr. Freeman had resided here since 1948, moving here from St. Louis. He operated Wayne’s Grill here from 1949 until his retirement in 1974. He was a member of St. Mary’s Cathedral Parish, the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks, and the American Legion. Mr. Freeman was a veteran of World War II.

“Surviving are his wife; a son, William W. Freeman, Ballwin; brother, Thomas R. Freeman, Cape Girardeau; and grandchildren, Jennifer K., Caitlin Suzanne and Erin Elizabeth Freeman. Pallbearers will be Dr. Keith Deimund, Jack Slaughter, Gale Heise, Joseph Quatmann, Dennis Stockard, Richard Esicar and Ken Werner.”

I remember Dorothy

Wayne wasn’t particularly outgoing, at least to me. I remember him as a skinny guy who handled the grill. If he said a dozen words to me in all the years I went in there, I’d be surprised. For some reason, I picture him with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, but I could be wrong about that.

His wife, Dorothy, on the other hand, was a peach. She may have been one of the first adults I called by her first name. I’m not sure I even knew her last name until I did this story. If she wasn’t busy, she’d come over and talk with me like I was a regular customer, not some kid from elementary school.


40 Replies to “Wayne’s Grill”

  1. My dad worked for Southwestern Bell and ate at Wayne’s grill very frequently. He and Mr. Wayne (as we called him) became good friends and fishing buddies. We often met dad at Wayne’s during his dinner hour where he treated us to a bacon wrapped hamburger steak. That was dad’s favorite. I was sad to see that it was closed when I tried to take my husband there after we were married. Many happy meals were celebrated there. I worked for Southwestern Bell in 1967/68 and ate a few lunches there on my own. One day I walked up to the register with bill and money in hand, talked to Mr. Wayne for a few minutes then rushed off to get back to work. I was halfway down the block when I realized I still had the money in my hand. I hurried back to pay my bill and Mr. Wayne’s response to my elaborate apology was “that’s ok, I know who you are and I was going to get it from your old man.”

  2. I remember Wayne’s Grill fondly. My uncle Dub Heselroad was a part time grill cook there. The hamburgers were outstanding! The Plamour Pool hall was right next door and and after playing pool for an hour or so we often would go to Wayne’s Grill for soda pop and a burger to finish off the night. I remember walking room one of those perfect summer nights in cape when all you saw in the sky was the big moon which guided you way home like it was daylight.

  3. I worked at Wayne’s Grill for about a year. I was bus boy and dish washer, and once or twice I was a waiter. I remember Wayne and Dorothy fondly. Wayne would take me fishing sometimes after work. We’d leave at 11:30 and go late into the night. He would make ham and cheese sandwiches for us and would often have to yell at me for making too much noise in the boat (I was 15 years old at the time).
    My first pay day for 8 hours work was in a brown pay envelope with penciled notes on the outside. I opened it to find $4.83 or some number less than $5. It turned out to be 62-1/2 cents per hour!
    The other thing I remember about Dorothy was that she loved licorice ice cream cones from the ice cream parlor just down the street. I remember watching her eat that black ice cream in great delight. But I could never get into that!
    Great memories. Thanks, again, for sharing these photos – even though they show only the place Wayne’s Grill used to be…

  4. Loved to eat at Wayne’s Grill after seeing a movie at the Esquire Theatre! My last memory of eating there ( a hamburger ) I picked up the mustard and someone had loosened the top so you can guess what happened! Mustard all over my new jacket! Fun times back then!

  5. Another interesting post….. the prices of meals is astounding. I was interested in the obituary information. The Freeman’s son attended St. Vincent’s Grade School and was a classmate of mine. I have often wondered where Bill Freeman is these days. The obit said he is in Ballwin – at least he was at that time.
    Wayne’s Grill is definitely one of the fond memories of days gone by. Thanks for sharing………

  6. I remember walking down to Wayne’s Grill from our house on Bellevue. I was just a small child. I remember the aroma of burgers and fries that hit me when we walked in the door, and the tall, thin man at the grill. Those were the days…walking down to Broadway to eat dinner, go to the movie, and have ice cream.

  7. Did Wayne’s Grill have individual jukeboxes located at each booth or am I imagining things again. I don’t recall how they worked exactly but they were certainly unique.

  8. mark you took the words right out of my mouth,wayne’s did have indivual juke boxe selection things at each boot. there’s a place in st.louis called crown’s candy kitchen. north city..neighborhood’s seen better. crown’s has those juke box thngs. the no longer work,but they left there.crown’s has best ice cream. when they pour a shake or a malt into your glass the leave the metal mixing container so you get all of the shake. they are also big on making chocolate bunnies and santas..home made withe candy forms.my family ate a wayne’s alot since we lived around the corner on ellis street.

    1. It’s funny, I could picture those things in my mind, but I didn’t remember them as being at Wayne’s Grill.

      At first, I thought they might have been at Tony’s Pizza Parlor, across from the Rialto, but then I remembered the juke box was located in the back of the room and you had to walk back there to make your selections. I pumped many a quarter in that box.

      The individual players had metal tabs at the top that let you flop the pages of songs so you could make your selections. They made a cool sound as you flipped through them. I wonder what happened to them?

    1. Hi Ken, thanks for writing this story. I’ve enjoyed reading it and the comments again after several years. I am Wayne’s granddaughter and I am hoping to get a print of this photo of Wayne’s Grill. Can you please point me in the right direction?
      Thank you!! Jennifer Freeman Bane

  9. When I started teaching in the St. Louis area, we had to come to Cape for annual teachers’ meetings. One of my male colleagues stumbled upon Wayne’s Grill and had a steak. For 40 years he has held that steak up as the best he ever had. I didn’t ever have the steak, but the burgers were great.

  10. I too remember Wayne’s very fondly. My first experience was for breakfast before going squirell hunting with my dad in the early 60’s, I had to be 11 or 12. During jr. high we’d grab a coke and wait for a ride home from the Esquire. Throughout college it was the lunch break before playing a few games of snooker or 8 ball at the Pla-more. One more memory bites the dust.

    1. Hi Dave…received this e-mail this am (11/12/19) pleasantly surprised to get information from the Cape (I’ve lived in Colorado for the past 50 yrs.). By the way, are you related to Judy Vogelsang from the Cape? She was approx. 17 yrs. old in 1958. I attended SEMO back then (Freshman) & had a part-time job at the Esquire Theater. Judy & I went out for awhile, she was a sweet girl, attended Central High.
      Joe Parr
      Arvada, Co

  11. Wayne had a knack for that bacon sirlon hamburger. he saw me walk thru the door and he started making it. seemed like i paid .69-.89 for the complete meal.

  12. i paid a 3.50 for a ribeye steak,salad and baked potato at sunnyhill and that wasn’t the golden coin.so i save money to do it..we forget that was a lot of money back in the late 60’s.some folks were making a dollar a hour and thought that was a ok salary. now i can’t walk through shnuck’s without spending 100 bucks and buy little

  13. I would walk down from our store (Howards) for a grilled cheese and milkshake. It was a favorite of ours. I also like the black licorace ice cream from Martha Washingtons. This was our destination after ballet recitals.

  14. We could leave Trinity Lutheran at lunchtime? I must have been totally clueless or, more probably, knew my parents would never agree to it! And who would want to miss those wonderful lunches at T.L.? (Actually, looking back they were pretty good, but I was a picky eater.)

    1. I had a signed permission slip. I guess we had been in there enough as a family that they felt it was OK to go up there. I had a good sideline business buying candy in bulk at Vandeven’s and selling it by the piece when I got back to school. Enough to let me have the occasional piece of coconut cream pie for lunch.

  15. I well remember Wayne’s Grill, the best burgers and fries I ever had; they set the bar for all others consumed since, all over the U.S.
    I also worked as usher and at the concession stand at the Esquire and at times all of us had to take turns mounting the tall ladder and changing the marquee. I’ve never liked high places and that was enough to make me queasy. Wonder if Dick Smith recalls three of us doing clean-up duty on a Saturday morning. That vacuum cleaner was fun, eh, Dick?
    The Pla-Mor pool hall was a great place: the Aker’s(?) allowed no rough-housing or swearing or out you’d go. A great, unforgettable couple they were, who insured local kids had a clean, wholesome place to play billiards or just to hang out.
    I seldom went in Vandeven’s across the street but one Saturday morning I stopped in briefly and noticed everyone staring out the window at Janet Graham, walking across the street towards the other side, wearing very short shorts. She had the best legs in town.
    Wasn’t there a pizza shop, maybe the first on in Cape, on the southwest corner of that intersection?

    1. John…I remember you at Cape State, you were a Senior at that time. Interesting that you were an Usher & ‘Marquee Technician’ at the Esquire Theater too. I also had that honor back in 1958 when I was a freshman student at Cape State. Jim Foster was the Manager at that time…what a great guy ! He would let us study in the back office when things were quiet.
      Some of the names that I recall of the student/employees at the theater at that time were Donna ( ? last name) who was a high school student, & Jane Sciortino who sold movie tickets in the ticket booth. Just cannot recall names of the others now.
      Met really great people at Cape back then…still connect with several of my classmates from that time.
      Have been living in Colorado for the last 45 years & enjoying this great Rocky Mountain state & all that it offers.

  16. I will forever remember Waynes grill primarily for his unique tasting chili. It wasn’t particularly hot-just tasty. Have never been able to duplicate the taste-wish I could….

    steak and Shake canned chili is close but not the same

  17. Thanks so much to Ken Steinhoff for originating this blog and to all who have responded. Unfortunately, I just found it, but hope my comments will find their way to all of you. I appreciate all who have commented and still have memories of my parents’ restaurant. I will try to comment on the comments and provide some additional context.

    Wayne and Dorothy came to Cape in 1949. Wayne took over or opened the “Cottage Grill”, a few doors west of Capaha Park. At some point, he moved “uptown” to 816 Broadway to open the original “Wayne’s Grill.” It was a narrow format with about 12 stools and pinball machines at the rear, later giving way to two or three booths. A picture from that time shows hamburgers and chili for 15 cents. It was open 24 hours a day, with Wayne working 16 hour days to get it established. In 1961 he and Dorothy bought Miller’s Café and moved about five doors west. They then had about 20 stools and 6-7 booths, all of which were mostly filled at lunch and dinner. I was always amazed that he took no written orders. Wayne took in all of the orders verbally, to include “rare or well, with or without onions/pickles, over easy or scrambled, “ etc., etc. etc. He did seem to have an ubiquitous Lucky Strike as he stood at the end of the counter at slow times—such were the days. At the end of a long day, he could still find the energy to drive to his favorite fishing spot, usually Duck Creek south of Delta and Puxico. Bill Beard, who owned the nearby sporting goods store, was his usual partner. They enjoyed catching fish, but more enjoyable were the cherry bombs that they secreted in their tackle boxes to throw into the water and “wake up” the other in the early morning hours. Terry Hopkins has mentioned Dub Hesselroad, long time cook at Wayne’s. Dub nursed me through my first adolescent hangover one morning. For KFVS, “Karen” may have been Karen Wibbenmeyer, a tall redhead who entered/won some local beauty contests.

    Dorothy was multi-faceted. She greeted customers as they arrived, acted as cashier as they left, bussed and served as needed, and made sure “all went well.” She dressed very well, and gave the restaurant “class.” When Wayne was ill, she was able to take over and do everything necessary to keep the family business going. I had forgotten her penchant for licorice, as David Bahn remarks. The ice cream would have come from Martha Washington’s shop, run by Avis Meyer. (Avis eventually was an English professor at SLU. He ran the student newspaper there and achieved some notoriety in St. Louis for freedom of the student press conflicts with President Biondi.) The restaurant was sold around 1974 as the “action” was heading west near I-55. Wayne took over the Pla-Mor pool room for a couple of years, but he did not have the patience for it. I took one of the snooker tables to St. Louis and had it until about 2005 when I gave it to my son.

    I “grew up” there on that little stretch of Broadway, and it was a good life. I “fetched and carried” as a small boy, bussed and waited tables later. I had a stool at the end of the counter where I did my homework until I was needed. I was able to go to SEMO for $75 per semester (to include books!), walking a triangle from my home near Capaha Park up the hill to the college, then back to the restaurant to work lunch/dinner, then back home. Sad to see the Esquire deteriorate. That theatre and the Broadway were my “babysitters” as my parents were busy in the restaurant. I enjoyed seeing all of the movies, sometimes two or three times.

    Thanks, Susan (Montgomery Smith), for asking what happened to me (I had a crush on you in sixth grade! I remember turning the pages for you while you played the piano.) I finished at SEMO in 1965 and moved to St. Louis to pursue a teaching career. I retired from public education as a superintendent in the metro area, then finished up with a nice 15 years at Fontbonne University as the Dean of Education. (Small world—I worked there with Dr. Nancy Blattner whose uncle “Bud” operated the Sunny Hill restaurant.) Although I have a doctoral degree, I always contend that my best training was the “Ph.D.” in human relations received at Wayne’s Grill. As stated earlier, it was a good life. I now have another good life, living in Ocala, FL, playing tennis and golf to my heart’s content.

    With no resources other than their hard work and determination, Wayne and Dorothy made a successful life for themselves and a small place in Cape Girardeau history. Ken has included the obituary of my father; Dorothy died in December of 1989 at the St. Francis retirement center. Thanks to all of you for remembering.

    Bill Freeman

    1. Bill, thanks for the update. Wayne’s Grill is one of the topics that generates a lot of comments, right up there with Wimpy’s, the Blue Hole and Pfisters. I don’t think I’ve ever had a steak as good as the Wayne’s Grill filet with the bacon wrapped around it.

  18. To Bill Freeman, If you find this, I want to say HELLO. How interesting to read your story, including the “crush”. I am flattered. I have fond memories of you and all of our grade school bunch. I have often wondered where various classmates are now living. It would be fun if our grade school class could have a reunion. It would surely be a small group. Glad to know you are well and enjoying life. I have lived in Cape, except for a period of 15 years and returned 5 years ago. Thank you for writing such a wonderful story about the Grill, yourself and family. My best to you, dear friend.

  19. I loved reading the post from Bill Freeman. I remember the Freeman’s well. Bill was in my sister Mary Jo’s class at St Mary’s. He was always a good looking guy and so very nice to everyone. It is funny he lives in Ocala because I live 30 miles south of Ocala and go there often. Small world!

  20. When I was a little girl, my great aunt (Leona Childs) would take me to Wayne’s Grill a lot for a burger and fries. When my food came to the table, the burger was always missing! It was just the buns and fries. He would then come to the table with the burger on a spatula and place it between the buns. It was so funny!!! He would do it every time and I always got a big chuckle out of it. I loved going in there!

  21. It has been so much fun reading this blog as I worked at not just Wayne’s Grill, but also Blue Hole BBQ and Sunny Hill. Wayne’s was my first job and, I believe, I was just 16 around 1968. Actually, my mother, Betty Glueck, always talked about her adventures working as a usher at the Esquire.

  22. It’s so touching to read these stories about my grandparents, Wayne and Dorothy. They were such amazing people and I miss them so much. I was born in 1971 and spent a lot of time in the restaurant as a baby while my mom and dad were in college at SEMO. I hear stories about being pushed up and down the street in my stroller and how proud grandma was of her grandbaby I also have pictures of me sitting on a pinball machine drinking a Fanta at the pool hall. Some of my favorite memories of Cape as a child were getting Esikar’s summer sausage sliced so thin, fishing with Boppy (Wayne), shopping with grandma Dorothy, and Boppy riding his moped around. They were both so special to me and I will always hold Cape dear. Thank you all for your comments. The memories are wonderful.

    1. I survived on Wayne’s Grill burgers for about my last three years at Trinity Lutheran School, and I had a Saturday payday ritual of ordering a steak when I worked at The Missourian. I’ve never had one as good as the ones off the grill.

  23. Happy to see that my daughter, Jennifer, has such warm memories of Wayne’s. I do as well.

    Thanks to you, Ken, as well, for the opportunity to post such memories.

    Bill Freeman

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