By D. Paul Harris
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
ST. JOHN — The Chuck-A-Burger, the restaurant that looks like it could double as a set in "American Graffiti," is closing at the end of the year.
The restaurant, which opened at 9025 St. Charles Rock Road in 1957, will lose its lease Dec. 31.
Owner Ron Stille opened another Chuck-A-Burger two years ago in St. Charles, and he said he can’t afford to buy the property here.
"It makes me sick because I grew up there," said Stille, 52, of Ellisville. Advertisement
"It’s touched thousands of lives, including my family and friends. When my dad passed away in 1999, I went down there in the middle of the night and just stood in the kitchen and cried. Because this was family … how much that store means to us."
The restaurant, which seats 42 inside and has 65 parking spaces, also is close to the hearts of legions of customers.
"That’s where you went to meet your buddies or to take your girlfriend and sit in the parking lot and drink a cherry Coke," Stille said. "On Friday or Saturday night you’d cruise around in your ’57 Chevy before you went to a drive-in movie or after a movie."
Chuck-A-Burger opened its first store in 1955 at Page and Pennsylvania avenues in Pagedale. At the company’s peak, in the 1960s, there were eight locations in the St. Louis area.
Stille’s father, Ralph, was the first manager of the Rock Road restaurant. Ralph Stille bought the business in 1978 and Ron and his wife, Linda, bought it from Ralph in 1995.
The business faded in the 1970s in the face of chain competition, but in 1982 Ron and his father revitalized the store by starting "cruise nights" on weekends, making it a meeting place for classic cars, carhops and ’50s and ’60s music.
Some customers Thursday took the news hard.
"I remember as a kid, I used to watch the snow falling from the window here while I was waiting for my food," said Mike Pogue, 44, of St. John, as he received a burger and fries. "My mom brought me here quite a bit. Now I work right up the street, and I still come here for lunch. I’m really going to miss it."
Faye Staufenbiel, 55, of west St. Louis County, has been a regular customer for 40 years. She says the drive doesn’t bother her because she loves the food and the nostalgia.
"I really hate to see it close," Staufenbiel said as she waited for her order with her 19-year-old daughter, Ginger Willis.
Among the restaurant’s 23 employees is Carol McCain, 61, an inside waitress who has been with restaurant three-plus decades. She said she’d miss the customers the most.
"They call me ‘Chuck-A-Burger Carol,’" she said.
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