Frank & Helen’s Pizzeria is a University City landmark
The modest, unassuming building at 8111 Olive Blvd. in University City, with its brick facade and old-school signs, may not have a ton of traditional curb appeal, but it houses a culinary legacy that began during the Eisenhower administration.
The story begins in 1956 when brothers Frank and Jules Sitz decided to open a restaurant at Midland and Olive boulevards in University City. Jules eventually sold his share of the business to Frank, who called the eatery, simply, Frank’s. He soon brought his wife, Betty, into the fold along with his sister, Helen Wentzelman. Helen brought her garlic dressing recipe (which is still on the menu) and her name to the venture, and Frank & Helen’s Pizzeria was born.
In the late 1960s, a new chapter of the Frank & Helen’s story began. Frank bought an old carwash, located at 8111 Olive Blvd., bricked it up and opened the current Frank & Helen’s location that continues to be revered by St. Louis diners. In addition to the location change, at this time Frank also introduced the restaurant’s other signature dish, Broasted chicken, a proprietary process that includes marinating the chicken for 12 hours, breading it and then cooking it in a pressure cooker of sorts. The result is a bird that’s crispy on the outside and oh-so-juicy inside; it continues to be a fan favorite to this day.
After passing through a couple of hands, current owners Patrick and Rebecca Horvath bought the restaurant in 2008. Patrick had worked for the previous owners for seven years before he and his wife decided to become the caretakers of the Frank & Helen’s legacy, and the Horvaths have remained true to the core tenets that have enshrined Frank & Helen’s in the hearts of St. Louis diners ever since.
The menu hasn’t changed much; pizza and Broasted chicken remain as the cornerstones. The dough and sauce for the pizzas are still made daily, and the pizzas continue to be cooked in two ovens named after the restaurant’s namesakes: Frank, which has been pumping out pies for more than 50 years, and Helen 2.0, a relative newbie at 10 years of service. As far as decor, stepping inside the restaurant “is like going back to 1975,” Rebecca Horvath said. Her favorite interior design element? The faux-Tiffany light fixtures adorning the ceiling.
“They really bring that 1970s feel to the restaurant, and they’re a lot of fun,” she said. “I probably will never get rid of those.”
During their tenure the Horvaths have made a few updates, like refocusing on fresh ingredients in the kitchen, but most changes have been modest and intended to bolster the brand without disrupting it. Honoring the legacy is key. “It’s not about us,” but rather the memories of the multiple generations of diners that have passed through the doors over the years, Horvath said.
As it nears its 70th anniversary, Frank & Helen’s continues to thrive. Covid slowed things down some, but Horvath said they were able to pivot to carryout only and retain most of their staff. She said the focus right now is on sustaining the legacy. The restaurant is hemmed in on either side by other businesses, so expansion is probably not happening anytime soon, though Horvath said she’d love to have a banquet room and maybe a bit more elbow room.
And the chances of a new location, or a second place? “It’s a possibility,” she said, now that her kids are older. The Horvaths live in Fenton and have discussed the idea of opening another location closer to home. Another, larger University City location could also be in the cards. “We believe strongly that what will be will be, and when we find the right spot for Frank & Helen’s to take its next step, hopefully we’ll have our ducks in a row to be able to do that,” Horvath said.
The Horvaths have no plans to retire just yet; but when the time comes, they’ll be picky about who’ll end up getting the keys. “It would need to be someone who has the best interest of Frank & Helen’s at heart,” she said. “Not some businessman who wants to add to his repertoire of restaurants. We’ve put too much heart and soul, blood, sweat and tears into this place to see it not go to someone who loves it as much as we do.”
8111 Olive Blvd., University City, 314.997.0666, frankandhelens.com
Editor's note: This article was updated at 11 a.m. Aug. 8 to correct the spelling of two names.