STL standards: the owner of the new Carl’s Drive-In undertakes to protect the old methods


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  • Carl’s Drive-In – and all the things that make it great – are here to stay.

St. Louis Standards is a weekly column devoted to the people, places and dishes that make our food scene what it is.

If fans of Carl’s Drive-In, Brentwood’s longtime burger institution, have any concerns about the restaurant’s sale, they need only look to David Kraemer’s first official act as new owner.

“We’re going back to Frank’s recipe for grilled onions,” Kraemer says. “If you had asked for grilled onions anytime in the past six years, you would have gotten browned sautéed onions on the grill. However, the way they did it – and it’s so good that it’s changing. the deal – is that they used to mash diced onions in the burger and then flip it. So when it cooked, the flavor really got in there. When it’s cooked like that, it is amazing. Apparently they had a lot of backlash when the previous owner didn’t like them like that, so we know everyone will be excited. We’re taking things as far as possible and as original as possible. “

Although Kraemer has only owned Carl’s Drive-In for a few weeks, he already understands the responsibility that comes with buying such a historically rich restaurant. This historic weight is something he felt long before he considered buying it; in fact, that was the main reason he wanted to own the restaurant in the first place. Growing up in Wildwood, Kraemer had only been to Carl’s house a handful of times until about six years ago, when he moved to Kirkwood and started frequenting the place three or four times a week. By becoming a regular he got to know the history of the place – how it was built as a car service station in 1918, became a hot dog stand in the early 1940s, was created by Carl Meyer as Carl’s Drive-in in 1959 and had a good run under its second owner, Frank Cunetto, from 1986 to 2015.

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David Kraemer says he bought - ANDY PAULISSEN

  • David Kraemer says he bought

However, it was not only the facts of history that moved him; it was seeing how the history of the restaurant lived in the hearts of generations of regular guests who saw it as more than a place to grab a cheeseburger and fries.

“What’s great is the generations of people from Brentwood who come here,” says Kraemer. “There are kids who come to ride bikes and there are old timers too. Some of the old guys come in to talk about when Carl was here, and that was 62 years ago. There’s so much history here.”

When he came to the restaurant as the boss and now as the owner, Kraemer pieced together parts of that story. Some of these involve stories of Meyer, the original owner, who came to the location because his family was delivering meat to his original culinary iteration as a hot dog stand. Under his tenure, he transformed the location from the carhop service and pickup counter to an enclosed, air-conditioned space that could accommodate sixteen customers and, most notably, obtained the restaurant’s famous root beer recipe. Rumor has it that the recipe is an original formula from the 1904 World’s Fair, Kraemer said, which became so popular with Carl that people associated with Dr. Pepper sent scientists undercover to create fakes of the drink.

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It's never too early to become a regular with Carl.  - ANDY PAULISSEN

  • It’s never too early to become a regular with Carl.

Most of what Kraemer has learned, however, centers on the drive-in’s second owner, Cunetto, a larger-than-life personality who cultivated the restaurant’s reputation as the quintessential nostalgic burger restaurant. More than just an owner, Cunetto was a ubiquitous figure at Carl’s, spinning burgers from open to close and making the restaurant’s famous root beer himself. Because he was always there, he got to know everyone who entered as if they were part of the family; When he sold the restaurant to longtime customer Mike Franklin in 2015, that legacy continued thanks to seasoned employees Kelly, Pam and Lisa, who each worked at Carl’s for more than two decades.

“These girls pour their hearts and souls into this place,” Kraemer says. “They’ve been running it for years and really keeping it alive – collectively, they’ve been around longer than the company. They’ve seen so many people coming here growing up and now bringing their kids, and they know all their stuff. They really put a lot of dedication into getting to know you. The place would be nothing without them. “

With Kelly, Pam, and Lisa by his side, Kraemer hopes he can carry on that legacy, and he’s adamant that he has no desire to change what makes Carl so special. With a background in homebuilding and outsourcing, Kramer plans to renovate the space – not a full detox, but a project he describes as a “facelift” from the inside and out. from the outside. His hope is that the job will be more about restoring the restaurant to its past glory than modernizing it, and to that end he says he insists on retaining the old-fashioned charm and atmosphere of the space.

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The magic of burgers and root beer lives on at Carl's Drive-In.  - ANDY PAULISSEN

  • The magic of burgers and root beer lives on at Carl’s Drive-In.

However, one notable change he plans to make is opening on Sundays, which customers have been begging to happen for decades. While he is still working on the details, he hopes to kick-start the new hours once the building work is complete to reintroduce the restaurant to the community that has made it what it is – a restaurant he is thrilled to be. now be a part of this new ability.

“We’re not open on Mondays, so I was sitting there on a Monday and looking around thinking how crazy it is that I own this special place,” Kraemer said. “I’m still pinching myself. I’ve already asked someone to buy it for more than I paid for it. If it was about the money, I would have taken it, but it’s not. not about the money. “

We are always hungry for advice and feedback. Email the author at [email protected]

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