One year after a tornado destroyed their business, The Penalty Box has picked up the pieces and re-located to O’Fallon.
The bar was originally established in Bridgeton in 1968 near an area where the St. Louis Blues Hockey team once practiced. The business changed owners several times until Ken Nevins, of St. Charles, bought it in 2004.
Ken’s daughter and restaurant manager Michelle Nevins said The Penalty Box was your typical neighborhood bar.
“It was somewhere where everyone knew you, it was like your Cheers,” she said.
Good Friday Tornado Hits
The Penalty Box was destroyed last year when a tornado hit the City of Bridgeton on April 22. Since then, the Nevins family has worked together to decide how to rebuild and move on.
Michelle described the day the tornado hit as crazy.
Neither she or her dad were there, but she was on her way just before tornado hit, she received a frantic phone call from a friend, telling her to head home.
Michelle, who lives in Dardenne Ridge in St. Charles, turned her car around at Cave Springs and called to check on her son.
She said she turned up the radio to listen to the weather reports and began to worry.
She called The Penalty Box and spoke to bartender Jackie Heck, a long-time employee who was working that day.
“She said she just checked the weather and everything seemed really calm,” Michelle said. “My stomach dropped and I told her to get everyone into the walk-in cooler.”
Minutes later, Jackie said it sounded like a freight train as the tornado touched down. Soon after the power went down.
With roads shut down due to debris and live wires in the streets, Ken and Michelle couldn’t make it to their bar right way.
But Jackie lit some candles, kept the customers calm and poured another round of drinks.
Michelle said the damage to the bar was extensive, with nothing but beams holding it together. The air conditioning and doorframe were gone.
“It was like losing a friend,” she said. “You put so much time into building a family bar. It was devastating.”
Rebuilding the Bar and Grill in O'Fallon
For awhile the Nevins family thought they would rebuild on St. Charles Rock Road in Bridgeton, and even had the insurance company come out and assess the damage, but Michelle said the building owner said it would take awhile to repair.
“We thought well we can’t be out of business for that long,” Michelle said.
The family searched for a new location and considered several places in Bridgeton, but Ken had always had Main Street in O’Fallon in the back of his mind.
“We knew how big and booming O’Fallon was growing,” Michelle said.
The Nevins decided this time around they didn’t want to lease their building, they wanted to buy it and make it their own.
So they bought the building at 603 Main Street on the North side of O’Fallon and got to work.
Michelle said Ken, who will be 69 in July, was on his hands and knees scrubbing floors, while family friends and her brothers helped with the carpeting and other improvements.
The family considered renaming the bar, but decided they earned the name that everyone knows and loves.
“It’s sad because it’s gone, but that’s one of the reasons, we decided to keep our name,” she said.
Since their opening in O’Fallon on March 5, Michelle said they’ve seen a few of their old regular customers.
Kevin Nelsin has been a Penalty Box customer for 20 years and stopped by the O’Fallon location last week.
Nelsin said he was working a mile away from The Penalty Box when the tornado hit last year.
“When I left my job, I came by bar and the roof was ripped off,” he said.
Nelsin said he keeps coming back to The Penalty Box because it’s clean and he enjoys the people.
“I think once people come in and meet us, I can almost bet you’ll come back again,” Michelle said.
“This is like our home and we want people to feel that way here.”
The Penalty Box Bar and Grill
The Penalty Box is open everyday from 9 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. The kitchen, which is a new addition for the bar, is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Menu items include salads, pizzas, chicken wings, cheeseburgers and more.
The bar and grill also offers happy hour specials and karaoke on Wednesday and Saturday.
The Penalty Box Bar and Grill grand re-opening celebration is planned for Saturday, April 14.