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


garyeisenlettercropped.jpg
Gary Eisen's "open letter to the public" which he wanted to publish in the local paper.

Eisen says he and his wife, Nancy, purchased Bengoni's from Smith's uncle and grew the business from a 40-seat restaurant to 96 seats. He says when times were good he made a six-figure salary, paid his manager $50,000, and was able to offer his employees health care and paid vacations.

"We built a legacy in north county," he says.

Then, after September 11, 2001, Eisen says, business began to dry up. He and his wife cashed in their 401Ks to try to keep afloat, to no avail. They lost their home, their car, then the restaurant and finally, declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2007. He says the painful way that Bengoni's closed makes it more difficult to see someone outside of his family take the name.

"If money was not the issue, [my kids] would own Bengoni's," says Eisen. "In a sense, I'm thankful, I'm glad Nancy passed before all of this hullabaloo."

Eisen agrees that because of the way he walked away from the business, he has no legal right to the name or the signs. But he says it's more the principle of the thing that bothers him. He says he's stayed up late into the night reading threads on the Overland Facebook page about the controversy.

"I thought it was disrespectful for him to take this on without even calling me," he says. "I have no legal [right] to the name, but I think the way he's done it is a little tacky. I think he's shooting himself in the foot with Overland. It's small-town politics in Overland."

As for Smith, he's not quite sure how he will proceed. He says some of the confusion comes from the fact that he's not a blood relative of his uncle -- Smith's step-father is the uncle's brother. And when he started telling people he would use the "original" Bengoni's recipes, he meant the ones the uncle used in the '70s, not the ones the Eisen family used -- specifically for their famous house salad dressing and pizza sauce. But now even his uncle is balking, given the amount of drama the name has caused. Smith says he's had people come up to him while he's working on the new restaurant and yell at him.

"I've got both sides of the business ready to go, and I just don't know what's right to do. I've talked to a lawyer, I've registered the name with secretary of state of Missouri. It's mine at this point," he says. "Do I pull the trigger and use the name? Legally I can, but morally, what's right?"

He's got a second name in mind -- Basilio's -- but is upset to have lost the money moving the Bengoni's signs.

"Six-thousand people in Overland want to see the Bengoni's back, and all I'm doing is bringing back the salad dressing and pizza sauce," he says. "Everybody was excited and wanted to know more. My phone was ringing off the hook."

Smith says his new restaurant will be open this Friday. What it will be called remains to be seen. You can follow its progress on this Facebook page, currently called Bengonis.

Situation resolved! Click through for Smith's final decision.


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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....

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