from left, restaurateurs stanley browne and frank romano photo by jennifer silverberg

Madrina will open in former C.J. Mugg's space in Webster Groves in October

The news that C.J. Mugg’s Bar and Grill was closing at 101 W. Lockwood Ave. in Webster Groves was followed almost immediately by the announcement that it will be replaced by Madrina, a “modern classic Italian dining experience” from restaurateurs Frank Romano and Stanley Browne. Madrina is scheduled for a mid-October launch, following a remodeling of the historic Gorlock Building space, situated on the corner of West Lockwood and North Gore avenues. 

Romano, known for reviving The Parkmoor Drive-In (which he co-owns with Laura Burns), and Browne, who co-owns Robust Bistro & Wine Bar with his wife Arlene Browne, are teaming up to launch a restaurant they say will deliver a contemporary reimagining of the classic mid-century Italian-American restaurant. The 5,000-square-foot restaurant will seat 134 guests in its main dining room, with space for a further 60 diners in the bar area. A sidewalk terrace is expected to have space for around 25 guests. 

Romano said his time learning the trade working at Kemoll’s (which closed in the first days of 2023, after almost 100 years in business) was one of the inspirations for Madrina. “I always dreamed of opening a restaurant that celebrated mid-century Italian-American cuisine, when the first and second generation of Italian Americans really put their stamp on the country,” said Romano in a statement. “Out of respect for Kemoll’s, I kept that idea on the shelf, until now.” 

Romano and Browne said Madrina will call back to an earlier era in Italian-American dining when diners could expect good food and service without excessive formality. “There was that small moment in time when the food was really, really good, with an Old World atmosphere, and it was before the switch to white tablecloths that happened in the ’70s and ’80s. Really good, well-prepared food, timeless, polished service,” Romano said. “But without the checkered tablecloth!” Browne added. 

On the menu, that concept will translate to dishes that will appeal to what Browne called the “everyday diner” – pasta, burgers, pizza – right up to steaks, veal Parmesan and linguini con vongole. Romano said some of the signatures will be fried artichokes (a longtime favorite at Kemoll’s), as well as calzone romana with a flaky pastry shell rather than a conventional pizza shell, and a pan-roasted half chicken. “A little something for everybody, and there’s no white tablecloths – it’s wood tabletops and a very approachable, elegant and comfortable dining room,” Romano said. 

Browne, a certified sommelier, is putting together a wine list that will highlight Italian wine varietals alongside a selection of American wines and help diners make connections between varietals. “Italian wines listed on one side, American ones listed on the other side – if you like American pinot noir, maybe an Etna Rosso from Sicily is a nice equivalent,” he said. “We want to swing people toward more Italian wines because I think some people are uncomfortable and don’t know everything about them.”

The interior of the restaurant will look “completely different” from C.J. Mugg’s, Browne said. Architects Tao + Lee are currently working with the Madrina owners to develop design options, but nothing has been set in stone as yet. Browne paid tribute to C.J. Mugg’s, while adding that he’s thrilled to add Madrina to his existing business interests in Webster Groves. “Webster Groves is an embracing community,” he said in a statement. “It has supported our family and our business for more than 15 years, as well as many new thriving businesses. Webster has become a cultural and dining destination for the entire region. C.J. Mugg’s is legendary and we hope to continue a new tradition of memories that will make them proud.” 

Madrina will open for dinner only, and Browne and Romano said they are planning to have the restaurant open seven nights a week. They are currently aiming for a mid-October launch date.