Controversy Erupts Over Reopening of Bengoni's, Beloved Institution in Overland [UPDATE]

bengonis_new_sign.jpg
The sign that started the trouble. | Courtesy Darin Smith

Update, July 2: Restaurant owner Darin Smith tells Gut Check he's come to a decision regarding the name "Bengoni's." Scroll through to the bottom of the post to find out what it was.

From 1982 until the early 2000s, Bengoni's Restaurant was the place to go in Overland. Teenagers took their prom dates there, families gathered to celebrate communions and commencements -- it was an institution.

"The salads were superb, their pizzas were great. They just had really good Italian food," recalls Overland city councilman Jay Fetsch. "We all, over the years, enjoyed it."

Then in 2006 Bengoni's abruptly closed its doors without much explanation. Fetsch says he still sees people walk up and shake the door handles of the locked and empty restaurant all the time.

Earlier this month a sign appeared outside of 2239 Woodson Road, just down the street from the old location, proclaiming the return of the "New Old Bengoni's." While this was great news to some who missed their favorite Italian eatery, it caused others -- including the former owner of Bengoni's -- some serious distress.

See also: Lemmons to Close, Owner Says "The Real Problem...Is Me"

former_bengonis_overland.jpg
Google Street View
The former location of Bengoni's.

The man behind the "new old Bengoni's" is Darin Smith, an entrepreneur and former owner of a consignment shop in St. Joseph called Way2Kewl. Smith says his uncle founded the original Bengoni's, which opened sometime in the 1970s. Smith recently moved back to the Overland area and decided he was interested in resurrecting the business. At the time, the building that once housed the restaurant (1947 Woodson Avenue) was still vacant with the old sign hanging above it.

"I went to my uncle and I said, 'Is it OK to use the name Bengoni's?' He said, 'I don't see why not,'" says Smith.

After doing some inquiring, Smith found out that the original building is already in the late stages of a sale, but that the leasing agent and the new tenants were willing to part with the old Bengoni's signs. Smith found a location down the street -- another former pizza restaurant with a walk-up window and an expansive patio -- and paid $275 to have the Bengoni's signs removed from 1947 Woodson and transported to 2249 Woodson. He affixed them to the outside walls:

bengonis_new.jpg
Courtesy Darin Smith
The "new old Bengoni's."

Once the signs went up the trouble started. Smith says he was accused of being a scam artist on a Facebook group called "I Grew Up in or Had Friends in Overland Missouri." One of the main commenters was a woman who turned out to be the daughter of the man who ran the restaurant from 1982 to 2006:

The man opening this restaurant is telling people our family supports him fully. I'm telling you that nothing could be further from the truth! We were in absolute shock when we found out he was opening this restaurant. I for one am furious that he would try to use the decades of hard work my family put into our business to make a buck. He does not have any of the Bengoni's recipes, so I'm not even certain how he plans on pulling this off. I thought the good people of Overland should be warned because I know how much Bengoni's is missed in the community. Please let your friends and family know thait this is NOT the real Bengoni's reopening and neither the Eisen family nor any of its former employees are in any way affiliated with this man.

"They basically put my name through the wringer on Facebook, so I messaged back that the sign was abandoned," says Smith. "I'm preserving history and bringing back what the original Bengoni's was."

It turns out that while it was true that Smith got permission from his uncle (who he would not name, saying he does not want to be involved in the controversy), no one asked the family who ran the restaurant from 1982 to 2006. That would be the Eisens -- Gary, his wife, Nancy, and their children. Gary Eisen tells Gut Check that when he saw the signs announcing a new Bengoni's, he was shocked.

"I wish no ill will on Darin Smith, but I'm a little aggravated," he says. "If Darin had approached me six months ago and said, 'Gary, I think I'm going to put this together, do you have any thoughts, comments or concerns?' I probably would have helped him do what he wants to do."

Click through to get the Eisens' side of the story.


My Voice Nation Help
18 comments
rettamichaels
rettamichaels

Darin, good luck. You should've kept the name and flown fingers. 

Eisen, you had your say... It smelled, so wipe, and flush. That's all you got off. 


It sounds like more than 9/11 happened. It sounds like you went cheap. Fool a customer once and they'll walk every time. He has the recipes, he'll survive.  

donmichaelkaiser
donmichaelkaiser

Should have kept the old name.  Screw the family who blamed its failure on 9/11 had no rights to the name.  The new owner registered it with the SOS.  The sign was abandoned.  There was no disrespect shown, nor owed.  If the new owner gets out of Overland with only being shot in the foot, it's a victory.  That hood should be thrilled it has a new business without bars on the window.

MO_AaronD
MO_AaronD

9/11 caused your downfall? I guess it was Osama who devastated the first restaurant  the fact that it turned to sh** had nothing to do with it. let them suck  with  the same mosticiolli that is befit of most shit I-TAL-YAN that is typical of St. Louis WOPS. QUITCHA BITCHIN.  Lame asses

bbf62002
bbf62002

If Smith can go out there and do the name proud, more power to him.

Stephanie Thorsten
Stephanie Thorsten

We'll never know all that happened. The media never tells all. Again, the previous owner told the customers, including you, nothing. He closed his doors and walked away, without a sign or word of why. That's a little crappy. If nephew has recipes from the original, why shouldn't he give it a try? Everyone has an opinion on why he should/shouldn't do things a certain way, but in reality, it's business....and money.

Debbie Compton Kornmann
Debbie Compton Kornmann

After we moved to Overland we decided to go try Bengoni's because some friends who used to live in Overland had recommended it. We pulled up and the place was closed. So we have no idea how the food was since we never got to eat there. When we seen the sign that "Bengoni's" was opening again in this new location we were excited because we would finally get to try their food. We can't compare it to how the food was previously, since we had never been, but we can decide whether we will go back or not based on how the food is now.

Carole Testa
Carole Testa

The uncle sold out to the Eisen's years ago, they bought the name along with everything else. Yes the restaurant closed, but you don't try to fool the public calling it the "Old New Bengoni's. I never knew that the place was owned by someone else, so when I saw the sign I thought Gary was opening again. I think the guy was trying to fool the public.Then he knew the hurt it was causing the family, and the guy had the chance to get the old sign for free, if he had any business sense he might have called Gary Eisen and ask how he felt about using the old sign, it was coming down anyway, but just that jester could have made things go a little easier for the family, when Darin did that he cut his own throat with me. A good business man does not try to fool his public, when a conflict came up such as it did, he could have taken care of business, which he won't get any of my business. Be open and honest, don't say you have the same recipes. IMHO he would have done better using another name

Katherine Estevez Hazeltine
Katherine Estevez Hazeltine

Darin is just a hard working guy trying to make this work! Give him a chance! God bless you Darin in your new endeavor no matter what name you choose!

Cory Hart
Cory Hart

If he got approval from the original owners that started the business with that name then there's no reason he shouldnt be able to use the name. It seems like a slightly different business style now though, so it'd make sense to change as well.

Gale Bridges
Gale Bridges

I'll say this. As a family member of the "original" owner. I wish him luck .

Pwnzorrz
Pwnzorrz

He should call it Crybaby's.  Wahhhhhh you took a name that we took from someone else Wahhhhhhhhh!


Stephanie Thorsten
Stephanie Thorsten

My opinion, the uncle is the original owner. How would the nephew expect to know how it would upset the second owner if the general public, who frequented the restaurant, didn't even know what happened? Kinda crazy....

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...