Duff’s In St. Louis Holds 50 Year Reunion

Duff’s was closed in 2013 after over four decades of service in the Central West End. However, its legacy is still felt by the local business community. A reunion will be held for former employees and servers of Duff’s to commemorate the institution’s 50th anniversary. It will take place at SqWires, on July 30. The event is currently not open to the public.

Karen Duffy, the original co-owner of the restaurant, said that it was a “fun little dream” to open a local restaurant and see who came. She plans to attend the reunion. It just kinda grew from there to something very special. The food was delicious.

Duff’s customers described the food as “around-the-world cuisine” with a French twist. There were many dishes on the menu, including coquilles St.-Jacques and a ham-and-cheese sandwich (originally called croque-monsieur but few people knew the term). Duffy says, “It was casual dining with a relaxed atmosphere.”

In the 1970s, a vibrant bohemian community was moving into the area when the restaurant opened its doors. This confluence of ideas led to the creation of CWE restaurants such as Duff’s or Balaban’s that have made a significant impact on the world.

Duff’s was not an easy subject to some neighbors at first. Frank Mormino, the owner of Europa 390 next door, was quick to express his displeasure with his neighbors about the counterculture movement. Duff recalls, laughing, that “he didn’t like us initially” and “but as it turned out he loved Duff’s and the people who worked here.” Mormino even donated his barstools to Duff’s after Europa 390 closed in 1987. This space was eventually part of Duffs.

Duff’s has hosted many notable artists who have passed through the area, partly due to its reputation for being a passionate supporter and because it is close to Left Bank Books. These names include Kurt Vonnegut (novelist and Hells Angels member), Anthony Bourdain, who was honored there with a meal prepared by local chefs) and The Grateful Dead. Duffy said that Jimmy [Voss] was their chef for many years while they were on the road. “One day they came through, and I think all the Dead Heads discovered about it, as you would see children walking backward in front of the restaurant, trying to catch a glimpse of one of their members,” Duffy says.

Margaret Kelly, a former Duff’s server, is co-organizing this reunion and fondly remembers Kirby and Duffy’s leadership. Kelly says, “They ran a restaurant unlike any other because they were Mom & Dad, and us their children.” Kelly says, “You can get fired on Monday and be hired back the next week–that’s God’s truth.” It happened so many times that I couldn’t help but laugh.

Duffy admits that “we were very forgiving parents.” “We had the most amazing staff. Many people stayed with us for many years. Duff’s is a great place to work.

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