This week, West Newsmagazine talks with Jack Massa, owner of the local “Massa’s, of course!” restaurant chain. Jack started working in the restaurant business when he was 12 years old running food orders and washing glasses. Jack and his brother Bill opened Massa’s Old Place on North Lindbergh Boulevard in 1974. Before that, Jack was an aeronautical engineer with McDonnell Douglas. Jack and his wife will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary in August. The couple has two daughters and one son.What habit do you have now that you wish you had started sooner?
I have a habit of complimenting people more now or just saying “thank you” more. I did quit smoking. It’s been about 15 to 18 years. I used to say, “When I reach 80, I’ll start smoking again.” I don’t know if I miss it, but I remember that I enjoyed it a lot. Now that I’m almost 74 years old, I don’t think I’m going to take it back up when I’m 80. That’ll be my non-habit.
What are you most looking forward to in the future?
When it’s cold, I look forward to the summer. Then again, when it’s 100 degrees out, I do start to look forward to fall, even though I hate fall. The fall is right before winter, but I can’t stand winter. I actually look forward to going on golf trips with friends. We do it about once a year, and from now on, we’re going to try and do it twice a year. Just a four-day golf trip. I am looking forward to that right now in the fall. It’s so hot right now that it’s like, ‘oh my god.’ We had such a horrible winter. It seemed like summer was never going to get here, and then we shot right through spring. Then, all of a sudden, it was 30 degrees and then the next day it was 80 or 90 degrees. But I do look forward to those golf trips with friends. The worst thing in the world is age, I think. Young people don’t know how great it is. You’ll sit there and you’ll look at a guy, and you may have a lot more than he does, but the thing is that he’s a lot younger and he’s going to be around a lot longer.
What’s something your friends would consider so you?
I pay compliments, but maybe sometimes they’re a little off-color. I don’t know. Let’s say if I see I pretty girl, of which I see tons, and if there’s a guy there, the next thing I’ll do is compliment her and try to veer her to the guy or younger person, because I’m very happily married. I guess I just sometimes say embarrassing things.
That’s almost like asking me, “What are you famous for?” I’m not famous for anything. But my brother, he reacts so much with people that it’s unbelievable. I have to think about it. Bill has a phenomenal memory of names and topics that he’s talked about with people. He could entertain you for hours on end. I enjoy talking with people, but I also enjoy relaxing with people. You know, your best friends are the people that you don’t have to talk to all the time. You do, but it comes much more naturally. You don’t have to think about it. How many times are you sitting there with somebody and you feel like, “I have to say something.” You have to think about what to say.
What’s a memory you’ll never forget?
I was about 10 years old, my brother and my mom and I went up to Chicago and we stayed at the Sherman Hotel. My brother took ballet and he was at a ballet school up there. That meant that I was by myself and could run around downtown Chicago by myself. So, I got in the elevator in the hotel by myself, and it goes down one or two floors. The next time the doors open, a black person walks in the elevator with me. I look up at this guy, and he smiles down at me. He kind of looks familiar, but I didn’t know any black people. We got down to the first floor, and the doors open. We’re walking by the front desk, and the gal behind the desk says, “Sammy, you have a thing here.” I turned around and looked again. It was Sammy Davis Jr.
Have you ever saved someone’s life?
I have. I was out at Edward Air Force Base, and I was a young aeronautical engineer. Being an engineer, I did some work with the pilots in the simulators in St. Louis. There was one area of the envelope where they’d fly so high and so fast [that] when they’d do maneuvers with the stick, basically a roll, the airplane would diverge and it would basically destroy itself. So, I was out at Edwards Air Force Base and Irv Burrows was the chief test pilot for McDonnell Douglas. He flew first flights in the F-15 and all that. They wanted Irv to go to a specific area and do a half-stick roll and a full-stick roll. Well, that was a bad area [of the envelope]. I said, “Irv, we’re not going to do a full-stick roll. Let’s do a quarter-roll.” So, he did that and then, I said, “OK, now do a half-stick roll.” He did, and it was still tight. Then, I said, “Do less than a three-quarter stick roll.” With that, suddenly, the plane started to diverge. Immediately, he got off the stick. It slammed him sideways against the cockpit and [he] really took some lateral G-force. If he would have done a full-stick roll like he was supposed to, he would have been dead. The plane would have been destroyed right there. It would have torn the whole thing apart. If I wasn’t there, we would have lost the plane, but more importantly, we would have lost Irv.
If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would you choose and why?
One person for sure, because I miss him, is Stan Musial. He used to come into our restaurant, and Stan was the nicest guy you’ve met in your entire life. The last time I saw him was at our old Kirkwood restaurant, and he actually stood up and played the harmonica in front of everybody. His wife was in a wheelchair at the time. That’s the last time I saw Stan. People call him “Stan the Man,” but he really was just the neatest guy you’d ever want to know. Of course, I’ve had two of my best friends die. Certainly, I’d relish that. Being able to have a dinner with both, because I think of them. Those would be my three people, especially my friends. One of them died in 2000 and the other one passed away last year. I love the restaurant business, but the worst thing about it is that you meet so many people and you love so many people and then, they die. I do think about them all. I’m sitting, right now, at our restaurant in Ballwin. There was one gentleman that would come in with a large group, and I just think about him; he passed away about eight months ago. Then again, if I wasn’t in the restaurant business, I wouldn’t have been able to meet them and be friends with them.