Spencer’s Grill is a gathering place that brings Kirkwood residents of all generations together. Inside, a diverse cross-section of Kirkwood fills the historic restaurant. Opened in 1947 by Bill Spencer, the diner serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week, dishing up the classic diner eats the loyal clientele has come to expect. According to owner Alex Campbell, the history gives the restaurant its individuality and character.
“The one thing people really love about this place is the history,” Campbell said. “Everybody has a story from coming here with their dad or grandpa. They worked here in the ‘70s or grew up down the street and came here. It’s been around for so long and so many people have had so much time to create a story or have history here.”
Chefs working at Spencer's Grill (photo by Julia Knoll)
The appearance of Spencer’s today is due to some of the changes Campbell has made during his seven years of ownership. Some of these renovations included repainting the previously red walls and redecorating the aging building with fresh paint, new wall decor and other additions. Another major adjustment he made was bringing accomplished, decorated chef Jake Sciales to the kitchen staff. Despite these changes, the history and atmosphere of the restaurant have not been lost according to Matthew Hensley, sophomore and Spencer’s customer.
“I like how old and vintage it feels,” Hensley said. “It’s kind of small and I just like the environment.”
While there are other breakfast establishments in the Kirkwood area, Spencer’s is the only restaurant that serves diner-style food. Campbell stresses the uniqueness of the restaurant as one of the few traditional diners in the area, and the importance of carrying on the tradition for future generations of Kirkwood residents.
“Diners are kind of falling by the wayside.” Campbell Said. “They’re slowly disappearing, even in St. Louis, So [Spencer’s is] kind of a throwback to a time when things were done a little differently.”
The menu ranges from traditional breakfast fare such as pancakes and crispy hashbrowns to burgers, sandwiches and fries at lunchtime. Most of the items on the menu are under $15, with breakfast plates around $10.
Sciales, an award-winning chef with a large roster of achievements, most recently worked at Farmhaus, a James Beard award-nominated fine dining restaurant, for six years before coming to Spencer’s in early 2018. He brings his expertise and knowledge to Spencer's, as well as his hard-working attitude, says Campbell. On any given day, you may see him cooking one of his new daily specials, or working alongside Campbell doing catering and managing the restaurant.
Sciales and Campbell grew up together in Kirkwood, both attending Chaminade high school and playing Kirkwood hockey together. After highschool, they parted ways and reconnected years later. Both working in the restaurant industry, they decided to collaborate in early 2017.
“Jake is a childhood friend of mine,” Campbell said. “About a year ago, we thought why not join up and work on something together. He’s a good kid, he works really hard, really talented guy. To have him around here has made work a lot more fun.”
Sciales and his family have known Campbell for a long time, and after seeing Campbell at Spencers, the two reconnected. They started hanging out more regularly, which eventually led them to begin working together, according to Sciales. They were initially planning on opening up a new restaurant, but decided that it would be wise to begin working together at Spencer’s first.
“We just wanted to do something together. It was such a big leap from never working together to trying to do something new. It felt like it was just too big of a risk. We wished there was a way to bridge that gap and start working together,” Sciales said.
The burgers are just one of the many menu items that are changing with the addition of Sciales to the Spencer’s team. Spencer's has started grinding fresh beef for their burgers instead of buying the burgers pre-ground, Campbell said. Sciales said he strives to create a balance between changing some items to improve the quality while still maintaining the classic menu.
Under the leadership of Sciales and Campbell, Spencer’s continues to thrive. The next time you are in Downtown Kirkwood, make sure to pay this establishment a visit for breakfast and lunch from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. seven days a week.
Writing by Elliott Notrica, photos by Julia Knoll