Michael Noblitt, a chef for nearly 20 years at restaurants across the country, had found himself in East Prairie, Mo., and looking for a place to prepare food. The ad on Monster.com described a job that seemed perfect for the chef with the history degree: Run not one but three restaurants in a historic old hotel that had been famously saved from the wrecking ball.
So he made a call.
"I met the people from Prost," he said, referring to the owners of the building at 338 Broadway that now houses state employees. "I guess they liked me, and I knew I would love this job."
Bill Whitlow, the project manager for the Marquette Towers in Cape Girardeau, said they originally intended to find a company -- or companies -- that wanted to rent the spots in the lower level of the former hotel that used to belong to LoDos and Gatherings Cafe.
When they couldn't, they opted to put in their own restaurant and bar. That's when they hired Noblitt to manage -- and eventually own -- three restaurants: a deli, soup and breakfast restaurant in the old Gatherings spot that opens today; a piano bar with its own food that will open in mid-January; and an upperscale place that will serve more steaks and salads and a Sunday brunch in the lobby area.
As to the name, Whitlow said, "we have all kinds of marketing guys kicking names around. We'll come up with something."
Whitlow said they had to do something.
"We hadn't found anybody to rent it," Whitlow said, "and we just needed to get it back open to pay the bills."
Cooking since he was 6
Noblitt brings an extensive history of cooking to his new endeavor, plans that include his wife, Patti, to run the front end.
Noblitt is originally from Texas. At age 6, he said, he could cook a "full chicken dinner" that his childhood nanny taught him to prepare.
"I could cook chicken, hot biscuits and gravy, just good ol' country cookin'," Noblitt said.
He eventually attended culinary school, attaining the title chef, and worked in restaurants ever since. At first, he prepared food for workers in a German sausage factory, which led to a restaurant that is still open in Dallas.
Later, he joined a company in Houston that specialized in running restaurants in office buildings, something similar to what he's going to be doing at the Marquette. Then he worked in hotel restaurants for a few years, and then went to work at a historic mansion near Nashville, Tenn., that served as a restaurant.
All in all, Noblitt's been an executive chef nearly 30 years. But then his wife became homesick for her native Southeast Missouri and they came here. Then came the online ad. He and his wife have only been back in the area about three months.
'Not for a few -- for everyone'
"I know this building is a treasure to the people of Cape Girardeau," he said. "I want everybody to be able to enjoy this beautiful place, and that's why we want to keep the prices at what people can afford. Not for a few. For everyone."
The restaurant will include three different "themes," Noblitt said. In the former Gatherings Cafe, the restaurant will be called Marquette Bistro and Deli, which will be a daytime restaurant mainly for downtown employees, including the 100 to 150 who work in the Marquette's state offices.
"We will have people come here to eat from other parts of town, but with parking the way it is, we know where our customer base will come from," he said.
The menu at the deli will start out small, with soups and sandwiches and in the morning will feature pastries and coffee. Everything will be made from scratch and all by Noblitt. The menu will include burgers and fries as well as cold sandwiches. He's trying to keep the cost to about $5.95 for a sandwich.
The bar area where LoDos was will open around Jan. 15. Noblitt described it as a "speakeasy" that will include a piano and "neighborhood bar" type food.
The third phase will be the Marquette's first-floor lobby area, which will open in March to be a more upscale restaurant. That part will serve a Sunday brunch and will feature several holiday buffets a year. Noblitt describes that restaurant as a "full-service, white table restaurant."
Noblitt said he doesn't prefer any of the three different themes.
"I love it all," he said. "The day this job quits being fun is the day I give it up. It's tremendous. I can't explain how excited I am to be a part of the history of this building."
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