"You can either say I found the hospitality industry, or it found me. Either way, we found each other,” says beloved St. Louis restaurant owner and developer Pete Ferretti. But even he admits there’s more to it than that.
And while he credits his success to being in the right place at the right time—to a lot of luck and even more prayer—it appears to be Pete’s roots and the way he conducts his businesses and treats the people around him, that have afforded him the successes he enjoys. Since 2002, Pete has been the principal owner of Lounge Concepts, the managing umbrella company that currently operates two Circle 7 Ranch locations. Other venues developed and managed by Ferretti include The Pepper Lounge, Mandarin Lounge, MIst, Lumen, El Borracho and The Outfield at Mike Shannon's.
“Everyone has a calling in life. But I think it’s the Greek and Italian in me. I guess it’s the way people shared their ethnicity, shared their memories and stories through food around a big table,” Pete says of a lifetime of dinners every week around his grandparents’ table after church. “Every Sunday we would go to Yia Yia and Papou’s, and all of the family would be over. It was something we always did.”
Pete's mom’s parents were Greek, and his dad’s Italian. He says he and his mom—Georgia Kondosvolopolus (later shortened to Condos)—were the bakers. She, as well as the recipes of the women at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, where he has attended for decades, had a huge impact on the standards he has set for his restaurants. “The recipes were more authentic. They would go back generations. We are purists. We make pastries a certain way. It’s the secrets each of the women had, like orange zest or pulp in the pastries, chilled ice-cold water for dough. These things were passed down from generation to generation.”
Pete’s mom and dad met one weekend in 1967, Pete recalls, when she was attending Washington University in St. Louis and couldn't get home for Thanksgiving. “Mom was from Kansas City,” he says. “And Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago are big Midwest hubs of Greek people. Her family told her if she were ever in St. Louis and needed anything, go to the Ferretti's.” Georgia and Mike Ferretti married the following Thanksgiving in Kansas City.
Pete has been married to Tonya Ferretti, a Pattonville English Language Learning teacher, since 1989. The two have two daughters, Demetria, 23, named for Pete’s mother’s mother, and Sophia, 21, named for his father’s mother.
Food has always been central in Pete's life. In fact, he says it was always the catalyst, the passion, behind his projects. He was just 14 when he worked at Schmiezing’s, his uncle’s establishment, one of the first Sports Bar and Restaurants in mid-town St. Louis and a popular gathering place for sports fans.
But as he says, “Using passion for fuel is not sustainable. It's really about connecting with people, both staff and customers.”
And Pete concedes that while food is essential to life, it’s not why people go out to eat. “You have to have food to live, but why do people make reservations two weeks in advance for three to four couples and drive 30 to 40 minutes to eat food that they could cook at home?” he asks. “The love to go out and share that experience has to be greater than doing it at your home. The main driving force is people. People want to gather, to catch up, to share stories. I like to bring people together. My parents met because of circles of people interacting.”
Pete started out in the food industry after obtaining degrees in psychology and marketing at the University of Missouri-Columbia and spending a few years in corporate America. He and college fraternity brother and business partner, Loren “Buddy” Coy, owned and operated a Mr. Goodcents in Bridgeton, Missouri, for four years in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Pete met Loren two days before he met his wife when the three were attending MIZZOU together.
Young people looking to get into the hospitality industry have much more to consider than what will be on the menu, he says. “Food and service are the bare minimum. I would ask young restauranteurs, ‘What is unique about your restaurant?’”
And he says he would tell them to be aware of their customers’ reactions and to learn from them. “Is it too light or too dark? Do people have trouble interacting? How are the atmosphere and ambiance? Is the temperature alright? Those are things I recognize.”
Pete recalls one customer who had a shawl wrapped about her shoulders, even though no one else in the restaurant seemed to be cold. He had the woman’s server bring her a tea cup filled with hot water and cellophane covering its top, so she could wrap her hands around the cup to warm her. “I pay attention to body language,” he says. “People are our biggest assets. They cannot be undervalued.”