An aficionado of food and wine, Brian Underwood long dreamed of opening and running a retail wine store while he booked a substantive legal, political and security regulation career.
Chief compliance officer for Wachovia Securities and before that for A.G. Edwards for 18 years, Underwood even now runs a consulting business in compliance and security regulation as he owns and works as managing partner in Balaban’s hybrid restaurant, retail wine store, gift, catering and event business.
After early retirement in 2008, he and his close neighbor Steve McIntyre played a lot of golf. Underwood contends it was bad golf. One day on the “19th hole” McIntyre reminisced about his days as executive chef and then owner of the quintessential Café Balaban’s in the Central West End.
After a bottle of wine—McIntyre insists it was three—the two decided to reopen Balaban’s in Chesterfield. In the depths of the recession in August, 2009, they located a stand-alone property at the southeast corner of Dierbergs Marketplace on Clarkson Road at Baxter. With a substantial investment in renovations to the property, the legal ownership of the Balaban’s name and brand, award-winning wines from the original Café Balaban’s cellar, rights to the original recipes and some Café Balaban’s staff, Underwood and McIntyre opened just before Thanksgiving, 2009, and expanded, almost doubling their footprint, when adjacent businesses moved or closed in late 2012.
Their Tuscan inspired expansion created an intimate Wine Room seating eight which also houses the Library Wines, special wines from the original Café Balaban’s cellar, and larger space for eighty seated, 100 for cocktails.
Now recognized as one of the best restaurants in St. Louis by St. Louis Magazine, Balaban’s also holds a best of award of excellence from the international Wine Spectator magazine.
Balaban’s shares history, stories, probably even some secrets, with co-owner Steve McIntyre. McIntyre, the man who knows more about food and wine and how they go together than just about anyone, joined Café Balaban in the Central West End in 1977 as executive chef.
In less than 10 years when Herb Balaban Carp, then owner, wanted to retire, McIntyre who had developed many of the classic recipes bought Balaban’s and went on to establish new standards for dining in St. Louis as well as garner 13 consecutive annual awards from Wine Spectator magazine for the restaurant’s wine cellar.
In between he managed to purchase and to operate a restaurant and banquet facility known as Grant’s cabin and shine as the fine wine manager for Manhattan Distributing and Paramount Distributing.
In 2006 McIntyre closed Café Balaban to the surprise and chagrin of much of St. Louis after the death of his partner and his father within two years of each other. Instinctively, he retained ownership of the Balaban’s name and the award-winning wines. Those wines, called Balaban’s Library wines, now form the base of the current Balaban’s cellar. Bought with McIntyre’s superb palate, some show dates from the 1980’s, cannot be found elsewhere and drink exceedingly well today.
A wine lover for 25 years, Tom Bush says his interest in wine began while dating his girlfriend, Judy, now his wife.
That interest grew with his corporate telecommunications career which allowed him to buy fine wines. So, in 2013 he joined Balaban’s as retail wine manager.
With a personal touch, he directs the retail business selling and marketing wines and willingly meeting clients by appointment seven days per week.
Although he likes “the good stuff,” he has added more value wines to the Balaban’s selection so that Balaban’s appeals to the wine connoisseur and the average customer.
“When I bought wine, I always patronized the small shops with good knowledge and attention to personal service, like Balaban’s.”
Bush’s eyes light up when he remembers opening a 1990 bottle of Chateau d’Yquem for a surprise birthday party for Judy in Balaban’s party space. The two live, who often attend the Balaban’s wine dinners, live at Lake St. Louis; they moved here from Chicago in 1994.