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Mar 20, 2018
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Longtime St. Louis food journalist Joe Bonwich dies at age 58

November 2nd 02:11pm, 2017



A mighty voice in the St. Louis food community has been silenced. Respected area restaurant critic and food journalist Joe Bonwich died Tuesday, Oct. 31, at age 58 of neurological complications while vacationing in Florida, according to his daughter, Susie Bonwich. She said her parents were in Florida celebrating their upcoming 30th anniversary when her father collapsed.

Joe Bonwich was a fixture on the St. Louis culinary scene for years, writing about food restaurants for a variety of local publications since the mid-1980s, including The Riverfront Times, St. Louis Magazine and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he served as the paper’s restaurant critic for more than a decade.

Susie Bonwich said her father strove for constructive criticism in his reviews, earning a reputation for honesty and candor in the restaurant community.

“He was such a giving man, and very supportive,” she said. “Anytime he went and did a restaurant review, he was never walking in with the attitude of ‘I’m going to make this so brutal.’ He always wanted to be constructive, and that’s how he was with everything. He was honest and loving, and he loved giving to other people. He was a quiet, humble man who went out of his way for everybody.”

In recent years Bonwich returned to St. Louis Magazine, contributing restaurant critiques in his Eat at Joe’s column, along with news and opinions in his online Bon’s Bits. He also taught a popular food writing class at Washington University.

“I say ‘no’ to a lot of events and requests every year, but the one invite that I always looked forward to was speaking for his class at Washington University,” Niche Restaurant Group chef-owner Gerard Craft said in a statement. “His students always loved him and were so engaged in the topic of food. This is one of a million memories I have of Joe, and he has been such a big part of my life since I moved here. There were not many that cared more about the chefs making the food than him. RIP Joe, you will never be forgotten. The Craft family is heartbroken.”

Vista Ramen chef-owner Chris Bork said Bonwich’s work was crucial to his early success. “When we opened Blood & Sand, it was my first big gig,” Bork said. “Joe gave us three stars, which was huge. I sent him a message, and he said ‘I didn’t do anything. All credit goes to you guys.’ That was just his character – super humble.”

Even when he wasn’t wearing his “official” critic’s hat, Bonwich was known to give restaurateurs the benefit of his knowledge and insight.

“He was behind me long before I owned The Royale. He’d send me a little note here and there, sometimes a suggestion, sometimes a critique, always helpful,” said Steven Fitzpatrick Smith. “When I was in my tight spots, he’d send me constructive, positive messages.”

Besides restaurant owners and employees, Bonwich also influenced area food writers and publications, including Sauce Magazine.

“I followed Joe long before I started Sauce Magazine,” said founder and publisher Allyson Mace. “He did his job right, and I used him as a benchmark for the way we do our restaurant criticism, his professionalism, his way of doing things anonymously. Over the years, I was also lucky enough to grow a friendship with him outside of the magazine. We had a lot of great conversations about everything, but mostly the state of our wonderful culinary scene and how to help it continue to shine. He’ll be missed.”

In addition to his daughter Susie, Bonwich is survived by his wife, Jennifer Shipman Bonwich, and four other daughters: Lucie Bonwich, Lily Bonwich, Gracie Thompson and Celeste Kucvewski. Details for a memorial service are pending.

Photo courtesy of The Vandiver Group

Matt Sorrell is staff writer at Sauce Magazine. 


By Matt Sorrell

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