Longtime Glenn’s Café manager Steve Cupp can barely go to the grocery store without facing questions from former customers.
“I can’t go to the store now without getting stopped by two or three people who want to know all about Glenn’s coming back, so I have to tell them the whole story,” Cupp says. “I’ve thought about printing out a fact sheet and giving it to them. I have to go through the whole story over and over again. People can’t wait.”
Cupp might find grocery shopping a halting experience, but the Columbian is moving forward with the renovations and reopening of Glenn’s Café. The diner-turned-café is a CoMo original, serving comfort food since the early 1940s. Now, in its fourth incarnation, the New Orleans-inspired restaurant opened on the corner of Eighth and Cherry streets this fall. The reopening follows an 11-year Columbia hiatus for the restaurant. Glenn’s, which closed in Columbia in 2002, was most recently located at The Frederick in Boonville from 2006 until this summer — a move that requires some explanation.
After owning Glenn’s Café for 28 years, Cupp was looking to increase the café’s financial viability and decrease his own involvement in the daily management of the restaurant. He had invested decades in building Glenn’s reputation, but he was looking for an occupation with fewer worries.
He came upon an opportunity that would bring him back to Columbia last summer. Cupp became food and beverage director of The Tiger Hotel, and the hotel’s owners later asked if he would be interested in opening Glenn’s in its vacant restaurant space.
“You know, they made me an offer to put Glenn’s in there, and I accepted,” says the 59-year-old restaurateur. “It was pretty much their idea to put Glenn’s in here; it wasn’t mine. They took over the Glenn’s name and now own the restaurant, but I’m running Glenn’s here.”
Currently, Cupp manages all aspects of the Tiger Hotel’s culinary operations, including Glenn’s Café. However, because he no longer owns the restaurant, his control over Glenn’s menu and operations is more limited than it has been in the past.
Glenn’s still features the same New Orleans fare that diners long for, but Cupp is excited for the plans and improvements to the new space that will house his original concept.
“It will pretty much be the Glenn’s people remember,” Cupp says. “A lot of the menu is going to be the stuff that people will be familiar with, and there will be some newer things. But the look of the restaurant is going to be a little different than what they were used to before; it’s going to have a little bit more of an upscale look.”
The space features an entirely different floor plan than that of the previous occupant, Bleu Restaurant & Wine Bar. Glenn’s patrons are treated to a sleek bar if they walk into the restaurant from the Tiger lobby, but if they step in off the street, diners shouldn’t be able to tell that the space is attached to a hotel.
In addition to a new space and additional street seating, Glenn’s Café features a variety of new items on its menu. Although Cupp isn’t ready to reveal all of what is in store, patrons can toast the return of the restaurant with a variety of cocktails from the Tiger Hotel’s Vault cocktail lounge during a raw happy hour.
“It’s still going to have that New Orleans feel,” Cupp says. “We’re going to have a full raw bar in here, and we’ll have our shrimp and oysters like we did before, but we’re going to be adding some other things like a ceviche … different things like that.”
Diners both new and familiar will find the same quality of food and service that made the café noteworthy, Cupp says. He hopes his signature recipes remain impressive to Columbia customers.
“At Glenn’s, we like to do boldly flavored food, so we’re going to keep with that,” Cupp says. “I remember when we first opened the place and everybody thought that our food was so spicy. Now, everyone’s tastes have developed so much that people will tell me that the food isn’t as hot as it used to be, but it’s the exact same recipe I’ve used since the day I opened.”
The traditions that Glenn’s fans remember — the neon sign, quality ingredients, savory blackened red fish, spicy chicken tchoupitoulas, hearty pork chops, extensive New World wine list and attentive service — remain the same, but Cupp hopes this newest incarnation of Glenn’s Café exceeds expectations.
“We do something pretty different,” Cupp says. “I just think a lot of people really like the food; I think they miss it, that’s what we’re banking on. We want people to say that it’s even better than they remember.”
Steve Cupp provides a personal timeline for his history with the Columbia original.
1943: Glenn and Tilly Purdy open Glenn’s Drive-in at 720 Business Loop 70 W.
1985: Steve Cupp purchases Glenn’s Café.
1988: Cupp moves Glenn’s Café to 29 S. Ninth St.
2002: Glenn’s closes due to lack of profits.
2006: Cupp reopens Glenn’s Café at The Hotel Frederick.
2013: Cupp closes Glenn’s Café in Boonville in August.
2013: The Tiger Hotel reopens Glenn’s Café.
The Impact On Downtown Dining
“I’m excited to be in this market again, and get to see all my older customers,” Cupp says. “Being in Columbia was always where I’d rather had been, circumstances kind of fell together that it happened in Boonville, but it’s a new chapter now and happy to be back in Columbia and it’s nice to see that downtown is building up. When I first moved downtown in 1988, it was kind of a pretty down period in downtown Columbia because the mall had been opened for just a little bit and it really hit on businesses downtown. And when I moved downtown, I was the first business that was moving in downtown, instead of moving out of downtown. That was kind of interesting.
But I like to think we’ve helped. We were kind of the first ones to do anything different, so I like to think that after I did what I’m willing to do there, that some people took a few other chances on what they were going to do instead of doing the same middle-of-the-road stuff and thought that there was a market for doing something different. And they probably thought that if he could do it, anyone could do it.”