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Posts Tagged ‘Gerard Craft’

The Scoop: James Beard Foundation names Kevin Nashan, Kevin Willmann Best Chef: Midwest finalists

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

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{ from left, Sidney Street Cafe chef-owner Kevin Nashan, Farmhaus chef-owner Kevin Willmann } 

 

The St. Louis restaurant scene experienced a bit of déjà vu when the finalists for the James Beard Foundation Awards were announced today, March 15. Two St. Louis chefs moved on as finalists in the Best Chef: Midwest category: Sidney Street Cafe chef-owner Kevin Nashan and Farmhaus chef-owner Kevin Willmann. Both chefs were finalists in this category last year.

“I’m so grateful,” Nashan said. “You never know if you’re going to on the list again – it’s torturous! I’m just so grateful and really excited for the team. I just found out and I’m really blown away.”

Willmann found out about the news when Sauce called for comment. “Oh, no shit? Hell yeah!” he said. “I’m really proud of my team this year, we have an awesome groove going, and the sky’s the limit. “

As The Scoop reported in February, the James Beard Foundation named four St. Louis-area chefs as semifinalists in the Best Chef: Midwest category. Olive & Oak executive chef Jessie Mendica and Público chef-owner Mike Randolph did not make it to the final round. Pastaria executive chef Ashley Shelton, a semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year, also didn’t advance to the final round.

Winners of the chef and restaurant awards will be announced at a ceremony in Chicago on May 1. Local eatery Gioia’s Deli will also be honored at the gala; the Beard Foundation honored The Hill sandwich shop with an America’s Classic award in January.

 

Related Content
• The Scoop: 5 St. Louis chefs earn James Beard Foundation semifinalist honors

The Scoop: James Beard Foundation declares Gioia’s Deli an American Classic

The Scoop: James Beard award eludes Willmann and Nashan

The Scoop: 5 St. Louis chefs earn James Beard Foundation semifinalist honors

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

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{ Pastaria executive chef Ashley Shelton } 

 

The James Beard Foundation announced its 2017 restaurant and chef award semifinalists today, Feb. 15. St. Louis’s recent run of recognition from the foundation continues, as five St. Louis chefs earned nominations for the esteemed culinary awards.

Pastaria executive chef Ashley Shelton was named a semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year. This award recognizes “a chef age 30 or younger who displays impressive talent and is likely to make a significant impact on the industry in years to come.”

“It’s pretty much every chef’s dream come true to be recognized in that way,” Shelton said.

The JBFA nod is the latest in a growing list of recognition for Shelton. She is a member of the Sauce Ones to Watch Class of 2016, and Eater named her a Young Gun of 2016. Shelton said the honors validate her leadership style in the kitchen. “For me, it keeps pushing me and telling that the path I’m on is the right path,” she said. “We’re trying to do something different in our restaurants – not screaming and yelling.”

Pastaria owner Gerard Craft, who won Best Chef: Midwest in 2015, said Shelton’s culinary future is bright, and not just because she’s a talented cook.

“Being a chef is being a chief. It’s being a leader. It’s one of the hardest parts of the job,” Craft said. “For somebody her age to lead a team the size that she leads and operation the size that she leads, I can’t imagine anybody doing it better. What she’s going to do in the future is sure to be amazing.”

 

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{ from left, Olive & Oak executive chef Jesse Mendica, Perennial Artisan Ales’ Phil Wymore and Olive & Oak owner Mark Hinkle }

 

JBF also named four area chefs as semifinalists in the Best Chef: Midwest region: Olive & Oak executive chef Jesse Mendica, Público chef-owner Mike Randolph, Sidney Street Cafe chef-owner Kevin Nashan and Farmhaus chef-owner Kevin Willmann. This category acknowledges “chefs who have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions.”

This is the first Beard Foundation honor for Mendica. Neither she nor Olive & Oak owner Mark Hinkle could immediately be reached for comment.

 

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{ Público chef-owner Mike Randolph }

 

This is the second semifinalist nod for Randolph, whose restaurant Público was named a finalist for Best New Restaurant 2016.

“Going into last year I had put so much emphasis on the restaurant getting the Best New nomination because I felt like that was kind of a loftier goal, to be honest,” Randolph said, crediting his team with the restaurant’s success. “But that being said, I look at this list – these are people that I admire and that I respect. Any time you get a chance to see your name thrown in that hat, it’s humbling. It makes me want to work harder – and go in and hug everyone at Público.”

 

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 { Farmhaus chef-owner Kevin Willmann }

Nashan and Willmann are no strangers to this prestigious honor. Willmann earned his first finalist nod last year. “It’s always an honor and always exciting, especially for the crew,” he said. “They go so hard to keep our standards up.”

 

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 { Sidney Street Cafe chef-owner Kevin Nashan }

 

Nashan has twice made it to the finalist round of this category. “It’s awesome and amazing,” he said. “I literally just found out. It’s an honor any time you’re mentioned — it’s just great to be on the bus.”

Finalists will be announced March 15, and the winners will be named May 1 in Chicago. A full list of the winners is available online.

 

Editor’s note: This post was updated Wednesday, Feb. 15 at noon to add comments from Kevin Willmann. 

Heather Hughes, Catherine Klene and Matt Sorrell contributed to this report.

Ashley Shelton and Kevin Willmann photos by Carmen Troesser; Kevin Nashan photo by Greg Rannells; Mike Randolph photo courtesy of Público by Greg Rannells; Jesse Mendica photo courtesy of Olive & Oak Facebook

 

Related Content
• The Scoop: James Beard Foundation declares Gioia’s Deli an American Classic

The Scoop: James Beard award eludes Willmann and Nashan

The Scoop: Chefs Kevin Nashan, Kevin Willmann earn finalist nods for JBFA Best Chef: Midwest

The Scoop: 5 STL-area chefs, The Side Project Cellar, Stone Soup Cottage all earn JBFA nods

The Scoop: Gerard Craft wins James Beard award

Ones to Watch 2017: Sam Witherspoon of Sardella

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

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Title: Executive sous chef, Sardella
Age: 27
Why watch him: He proves good guys can get ahead.

Sam Witherspoon’s resume reads like a cutthroat careerist’s: the New York Culinary Institute of America to Danny Meyer’s Maialino to Donald Link’s Cochon, then Gerard Craft’s Niche and now Sardella. The lineup may evoke a sense of cold-bloodedness, a ruthless master plan, but that impression would be wrong for the guy Sardella executive chef Nick Blue called his “softer side.”

“I’ve never really had a plan,” Witherspoon said. “I always just kind of go where I want to go and I figure it out when I get there.” He’s gotten where he is simply by aiming high, giving it a shot. He secured the job at Niche with a cold call – an effort that would seem laughable if it hadn’t worked. “I have the attitude of start at the top,” he said. “Because it’s easier to start there than it is to start down and try to move up.”

This strategy, of course, only works if you have the skills to support it. “He has a really playful sense of food … an ability to translate comfort food into modern food,” Craft said. Take, for example, Witherspoon’s recent special at Sardella: a pastrami-spiced brisket and squash agnolotti served with pickled and butter-braised cabbage. “It doesn’t taste like it’s just a riff [on a Reuben],” Craft said. “It is its own dish – something nuanced and unique.’”

But for Witherspoon, being a chef has as much to do with how you treat people as what you serve them. “It’s almost impossible not to smile when you see Sam. He boosts everybody’s mood,” Craft said. “He’s a very positive spirit in the kitchen. That’s totally separate from cooking ability, but almost more important sometimes.”

He learned this during his externship at Maialino, where it wasn’t just the high pressure or long hours that impressed him. “These guys were very serious about what they did, but they walked in every day, they shook your hand, asked you how you were doing,” Witherspoon said. “They really invested in you, and that’s something I’ve carried with me throughout my entire career.”

A focus on hospitality in and out of the kitchen may sound peripheral, but it’s something that sets Witherspoon apart. A lot of people with serious culinary talent don’t make it past sous. “To be a great leader, there’s a certain amount of positivity that has to be there for people to want to work for you,” Craft said. He was equally impressed by Witherspoon’s ability to interact with guests. “If you’re going to do your own thing, you’ve got to have it – or you better hire somebody who does.”

There’s no doubt Witherspoon will have a lot of people working for him someday. For now, aside from having his voice heard through more dishes on Sardella’s menu, his goal is simple: “I would love to be able to give Nick Blue a day off.”

Photo by Carmen Troesser

 

 

Extra Sauce: Top 10 Scoops of 2016

Thursday, December 29th, 2016

From big chef changes at Niche Food Group to new taco restaurants in Kirkwood and steakhouses in Sunset Hills, here’s the dining news you were most excited about this year.

Don’t miss out! Follow Sauce Magazine on Facebook and Twitter to get The Scoop on the latest St. Louis-area restaurant news.

 

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1. The Scoop: Kirkwood to see new taco restaurant

2. The Scoop: Owners of Sugarfire Smoke House to open burger joint this fall

3. The Scoop: Catrinas opens in Edwardsville

 

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4. The Scoop: Jimmy’s on the Park closes after more than two decades

5. The Scoop: Joey B’s fourth location to open in April

6. The Scoop: Twisted Tree to open in Sunset Hills

 

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7. The Scoop: Nate Hereford to exit Niche, Brasserie’s Nick Blue to take the helm

8. The Scoop: Old Standard Fried Chicken to close

9. The Scoop: Two Plumbers Brewery & Arcade to open in St. Charles

 

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10. The Scoop: Firecracker Pizza and Beer to open in The Grove

 

Related Content
10 Best New Restaurants of 2016

Extra Sauce: Top 5 Dishes of 2016

Extra Sauce: Top 10 Sneak Peeks of 2016

Best New Restaurants: No. 6 – Porano Pasta

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

To be the best, everything matters – atmosphere, service and food. Here, the places that dazzled us from the moment they opened:St. Louis’ 10 Best New Restaurants of 2016.

 

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{ ‘nduja pizza }

Porano Pasta is the fast-casual restaurant we have been waiting for. It took Gerard Craft, the chef mind behind Niche Food Group, to combine affordability and speed with such quality ingredients and consistently well-executed food.

Walk in and notice the restaurant’s towering ceilings and wall-sized illustrations of Italian and St. Louis landmarks. Sunshine pours in through floor-to-ceiling windows and upbeat pop music fills the air (Ace of Base, anyone?).

Queue up to build your bowl from a variety of starches, sauces, proteins and toppings. The possibilities are endless, but we’re loyal to a combination we call the Suzie Bowl (That’s Suzie Craft, marketing director of Niche Food Group.): a half-kale, half-farro base, anchovy dressing, spicy tofu, green olives, crispy garlic, herbs and a drizzle of Mike’s Hot Honey. Spicy and sweet with briny bites, fresh crunch and pops of intense garlic and herbs – it’s been hard to order anything else since she suggested it on opening day.

While such healthy options are available, comfort combinations should also be indulged in, like a strozzapreti pasta bowl with Alfredo sauce, grilled chicken, herbs and toasted almonds. It’s a version of fettuccine Alfredo also known as our Achilles’ heel. Or go for executive chef Michael Petres’ new Detroit-style pizza: square focaccia-like dough with edge-to-edge cheese that bubbles at the brink into a salty, crackling border. Pair that with a Negroni slushie, and you’re in for a good night.

Niche Food Group took a national, fast-casual business model and made it work. Will it ever be a franchise? The possibilities, like their bowls, seem endless.

 

Related Content

Lunch Rush: Porano Pasta

• Hit List: 4 new must-try restaurants in February

• Sneak Peek: Porano Pasta on Washington Avenue

The Scoop: Gerard Craft to open fifth restaurant downtown 

Photo by Carmen Troesser

Best New Restaurants: No. 1 – Sardella

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

To be the best, everything matters – atmosphere, service and food. Here, the places that dazzled us from the moment they opened:St. Louis’ 10 Best New Restaurants of 2016.

 

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{ from left, executive chef Nick Blue, chef-owner Gerard Craft and general manager Chris Kelling } 

 

You don’t close the restaurant that just won you a James Beard Award – unless you’re Gerard Craft. He closed Niche one year after winning Best Chef: Midwest. St. Louis expects new concepts from Craft, but it was another thing entirely to eliminate his first restaurant and the namesake of Niche Food Group to try something new. Sardella had a lot to live up to.

So what kind of place is Sardella? “That’s the toughest question,” Craft said. “I think it’s our restaurant … [We’re] getting to have fun, getting to cook the food we want to cook.” It’s a place of freedom – even improvisation – for a team nationally famous for precision and adherence to Niche’s restrictive Missouri-only sourcing.

Sardella’s concept is more suggestion than mandate: food shaped by Italy, rather than Italian food. That may seem like semantics, but the freedom is in the phrasing. “It’s a slight direction,” Craft said. “Sardella is influenced by Italy, but it’s not straight Italian. Honestly, it would confuse many Italians. My greatest example is the green bean dish. It’s green beans on garam and roasted garlic custard with crispy garlic and Calabrian chile vinaigrette. It’s a dish that’s so Italian ingredient-wise, and so un-Italian any other way. When you eat it, it feels Southeast Asian.”

Italian, Southeast Asian, Missourian – one bite of this shockingly rich and savory vegetable small plate and you won’t care how it got here. Green beans (or the charred squash version now on the menu) never tasted so good. Same goes for the thinly sliced bavette steak: We don’t care why it’s topped with miso butter, we’re just glad that it is. Or the marinated sunchoke with a tender, acidic base joined by rich prosciutto and a kick of jalapeno – don’t ask questions, just eat. In this dance of Italian plates moving to various Asian, African or Mexican beats, diners have as much fun as the kitchen.

 

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{ miso-ricotta ravioli with orange, pepitas, brown butter and tarragon }

 

“At Niche, we were the special occasion restaurant, the nicest restaurant in town,” said general manager Chris Kelling. “But here, we just want to be the most fun.”

Even on a Monday night, the energy is high. The music is louder, the drinks better, the clientele hipper. It’s too lively to feel formal. It feels cool.

Talk to any Niche veteran on Sardella’s team, and you can see that relief, like loosening one’s tie at the end of a long day (literally – servers now wear black jeans and chambray shirts). The whole space has undergone a parallel stylish, casual makeover. The long wood bar is flanked by bookshelves. Servers weave between closer, smaller tables. The once cavernous ceiling was lowered over a wall-length butter-soft leather banquette. There are hanging plants, sardine tins and a general sense of lightness: blond wood, white walls, smiling faces.

With Craft, executive chef Nick Blue and executive pastry chef Sarah Osborn in the kitchen we expected the food to impress, but it’s the atmosphere, the posture of Sardella that’s most striking. This is a restaurant full of people doing what they love in the way they want to do it.

“It sounds cliche, but I get to throw a party seven nights a week,” Kelling said. “I enjoy doing it. I feel that energy transfers to the team, to the guest, and it’s all reciprocal.”

We feel it, too. The intimidation of fine-dining service (that sense of attempting a dance to which many don’t know the steps) is gone from Sardella, with no great loss. But anyone who’s ever hosted knows how hard it is to make a party look this effortless.

“We don’t have rules for rules’ sake, because then it stops being a service,” Kelling said. “Everything is about the flow for the guest. It’s got to be smooth and have precision. … If we just create a platform for the guest to enjoy themselves, then we do a good job.”

This is what Sardella is about: a good time. Craft has been around long enough to know that when the kitchen isn’t having fun, no one is. “That’s Gerard’s strength: He cares. He listens to feedback,” Kelling said. “If you don’t care – if you’re not listening – then the emperor has no clothes.”

We’re happy to report Craft is resplendently dressed at Sardella. We went to Niche when we wanted to feel fancy. We go to Sardella when we want to have fun – as often as we can.

 

More about Sardella

• Sneak Peek: Sardella in Clayton

• What I Do: Nick Blue of Sardella

• The Scoop: Gerard Craft to close Niche, Sardella to open

Readers Choice 2015: Chef of the Year – Gerard Craft

The Scoop: Gerard Craft wins James Beard award

Photo by Greg Rannells

Sneak Peek: Sardella in Clayton

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

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Get ready, St. Louis. After five months of anticipation, Sardella will open doors for its first dinner service tomorrow, Nov. 2, pending final inspections today. Niche Food Group chef-owner Gerard Craft said Sardella will start with dinner tomorrow and then breakfast service, which will debut Thursday, Nov. 3.

Sardella moves into the former home of Niche, Craft’s flagship restaurant, which he closed in June after 11 years. The announcement came as a surprise to many; Craft had just won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Midwest in 2015 for his work at the fine dining restaurant.

Niche was lauded for its focus on highly regional, Missouri-sourced cuisine. At Sardella, Craft casts off the hyper-local limitations in favor of Italian-inspired dishes. While local purveyors are still widely used, Sardella’s dishes feature previously prohibited ingredients like seafood, lemons and chocolate. “I just want people to have fun again,” Craft said. “I want a noisy restaurant with people having fun.”

Craft also traded in Niche’s white tablecloths and subdued fine-dining demeanor for warm white walls, light wood, intricate blue-and-white tile work and cheery golden-yellow banquette seating. And the bar now seats eight and runs half the length of the restaurant, allowing for a much larger beverage program than Niche’s. One thing that hasn’t changed is the open kitchen visible through the pass, where customers can watch the busy crew under the direction of executive chef Nick Blue and executive pastry chef Sarah Osborn.

 

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{Sardella executive chef Nick Blue, executive pastry chef Sarah Osborn and Niche Food Group chef-owner Gerard Craft}

Sardella will offer breakfast and dinner service, with lunch to follow a few weeks later. Craft said he wanted to bridge the gap between heavy American breakfast (think pancakes and eggs or biscuits and gravy) and unhealthy fast-food options. Sardella will offer a European-style breakfast service with pastries and a coffee program (Sardella’s baristas trained under Sump Coffee owner Scott Carey.). Customers can snack on a cinnamon roll and espresso at the bar, grab a vegan yogurt parfait to go or snag a seat for a smoked salmon English muffin or avocado toast.

Dinner service will feature more than a dozen shareable small plates, a handful of pastas and four heartier meat entrees. “The way (my wife Suzie Craft and I) like to eat these days is having a few small plates,” he said, citing favorite menu items like arugula salad, gnocco fritto and warm dinner rolls (“like crack”).

Sardella’s bar program will be far more expansive than Niche’s offerings. Under the guidance of general manager and beverage director Chris Kelling, the bar will offer six draft beers and a handful of large-format bottled options. Niche Food Group veterans like David Greteman and Kyle Mathis have designed the house cocktail list, and Kelling himself oversaw the wine selection, which Craft described as fun, approachable and “not so fussy.”

Sardella will be open for breakfast Monday to Friday from 7 to 11 a.m., and coffee and pastries will be available until 3 p.m. Dinner service will be offered daily at 5 p.m. Here’s a sneak peek of what to expect when one of the most anticipated restaurants of 2016 opens doors:

 

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More on Gerard Craft and Sardella

• The Scoop: Gerard Craft to close Niche, Sardella to open
• The Scoop: Gerard Craft to open second Pastaria in Nashville
• The Scoop: Nate Hereford to exit Niche, Brasserie’s Nick Blue to take the helm
• The Scoop: Gerard Craft wins James Beard award
• What I Do: Nick Blue of Sardella

-photos by Michelle Volansky

The Scoop: Anne Croy leaves Pastaria, to focus on Banner Road

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

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After four years at Niche Restaurant Group, Anne Croy has left her position as Pastaria’s executive pastry chef. Her last day was Thursday, Sept. 1, as reported by Feast.

Croy said she intends to focus on her business, Banner Road Baking Co. “Banner road is a wholesales specialty food business,” she said. Currently, she sells four varieties of granola under the Banner Road name. She hopes to expand her distribution throughout the Midwest and add more flavors and products like energy bars, granola bars, cookies and crackers.

“Anne makes some of the best granola in the world, and we’re proud to still serve her recipe at Pastaria,” said Niche Food Group owner Gerard Craft.

 

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Croy worked at Pastaria’s since it opened in 2012. “I’ve been able to work with some of the finest chefs in the city,” she said. “I just had an amazing team, and I’m really excited about what (executive chef Ashley Shelton) is doing with the restaurant.”

Craft said Sardella executive pastry chef Sarah Osborn has taken over pastry operations and will develop desserts for Pastaria and Taste. She will also have a hand in developing gelato pop flavors for Porano.

Pastaria Nashville executive pastry chef Mathew Rice has been named Niche Food Group executive pastry chef and will work with Osborn to develop the gelato programs at Pastaria and Porano, as well as the overall dessert programs at Pastaria and Taste.

Rice said he looks forward to the added responsibilities, as well as more frequent trips back to St. Louis. “This will keep me involved in the St. Louis food scene, so that’s something I’m excited about,” Rice said.

 

Catherine Klene contributed to this report. 

 

What I Do: Nick Blue of Sardella

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

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Gerard Craft’s text message asked for a vegetarian dish, done Niche-style. Unbeknownst to Nick Blue, he was in the preliminary stages of a job interview for executive chef of Sardella, the concept that will replace Niche, Craft’s first restaurant and the one that earned him St. Louis’ first James Beard Foundation Award. Blue certainly has the resume to head up Sardella when it opens later this month. He began working with Craft in 2009, bouncing around between Brasserie, Niche and Taste before working his way up to executive chef of Brasserie. Here, Blue shares what he’s learned so far in the Niche Food Group.
 

First week on 
the job
“I was walking through the (old Niche) dining room carrying two cases of eggs by the handles and … one bottom fell out and the whole case just breaks in the middle of the dining room. … I was like, ‘Oh God, this is my first true professional kitchen.’”

From-scratch kitchen
“(Brasserie) was a well-oiled machine already. … To start over from scratch – it’s been a little nerve-wracking, to say the least. I’ve never done this before. I don’t know what to do every single time, but I try to make that call and ask for forgiveness later.”

Attitude adjustment
“The whole kitchen culture (at Sardella) is changing. … We can go back to having fun and start cooking the food that’s why we started cooking. It’s going to be a little more casual (than Niche).”

Most important meal of the day
“I’m a breakfast fan, but not at breakfast hours. Recently the Sardella kitchen management team has been hooked on Original Pancake House in Ladue. We get the breakfast sandwiches to go. It’s on sourdough with egg, ham and I add American cheese.”

His sweeter half
“When (my wife, Sardella pastry chef Sarah Osborn and I) cook (at home), we both do it. I’ll do something savory, and she’ll do something pastry. … I have a huge sweet tooth. The two things I usually ask for are tres leches cake or a strawberry-rhubarb pie.”

Retirement plans
“My dream retirement job is to have a taco stand on the beach – somewhere in Key West probably. … I came up with that big plan after a few drinks at Big Star (in Chicago). I was eating their fish tacos and I was like, You know what? I’m going to live on a beach one day and retire and make fish tacos. And Sarah wants to do adult popsicles.”

-photo by Ashley Gieseking

Readers’ Choice 2016: Favorite Restaurateurs

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

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{Clockwise from bottom, Gerard Craft, Dave Bailey, Kevin Nashan, Nick Luedde}

The menus have been printed, revised, reprinted, revised … and reprinted again. The staff has been trained forward and backward. The silverware has been polished until it’s too shiny to behold. Friends and family have flown in for the soft opening with compliments fit for the pope/Shakespeare/Beyoncé of restaurant owners. But when the restaurant finally opens to the public, what’s going through a restaurateur’s mind?

 

Winner: Gerard Craft
Owner, Niche Food Group (Brasserie by Niche, Pastaria, Porano Pasta, Sardella, Taste)

“I think my opening of Niche was way different from any opening you will see today. In 2005, social media wasn’t really a thing. People finding out about new things were not overnight happenings. Now you open a restaurant and a million people line up out your door — definitely not with Niche. No one knew who we were. It was me, one other cook and my pastry chef who I basically kidnapped. We opened to 12 customers, and I think six of those were from the bar across the street, who I think I convinced to come over if I would feed them for free. …

“I was 25. My wife was pregnant. I was doing something a little bit different, which certainly didn’t make it easier. I would work from 8 a.m. until 2:30 a.m. every day. It was intense – a lot of anxiety, a lot of stress. … It was this dream, but also so much reality. And I physically remember when we finally got reviewed — (former St. Louis Post-Dispatch critic) Joe Bonwich just gave us this love letter. After, I looked up and … there were so many people, we didn’t know what to do. I almost threw up. I was like, ‘Oh shit, I have to cook for all these people!’”

 

2nd: Nick Luedde
Co-owner, The Libertine

“We had been in the press and had such a highly anticipated opening. … Ten minutes prior to opening — the staff looks great, and we had 200 people on the books — but I’m looking at my wife (Audra Luedde), afraid no one was going to show up. We had so much money invested. This was everything. … It all comes down to whom you’ve hired. If those people are people you actually want to have a drink with, the rest takes care of itself.”

 

3rd: Kevin Nashan
Chef-owner, Peacemaker Lobster & Crab and Sidney Street Cafe

“Obviously you want to throw up in your mouth. It’s such a big rollercoaster. You just hope people come and are so grateful when they do. It takes a village — everyone contributes to your success. … There are so many variables on opening day. The system you have sometimes completely changes during service, after service.”

 

Honorable mention: Dave Bailey
Owner, Baileys’ Restaurants (Baileys’ Chocolate Bar; Baileys’ Range; Bridge Tap House & Wine Bar; Rooster; Shift, Test Kitchen & Takeout; Small Batch; The Fifth Wheel)

“My seven stages of opening a restaurant for the first time:

Electric shock: Woke up early that sunny morning with no alarm clock with a surge through my body and the immediate thought, ‘I am opening a restaurant today! You’ve been working on this day and night, sleeping two hours at a time on top of the bar. It’s actually real now. Go go go!’

A burning sensation in the back of the head and neck: Is there enough time to get everything done? … What did I forget? Will anyone come? Will too many people come? Why am I doing this on a Friday? Why didn’t I do a soft opening?

Accelerated breathing and hypersensitivity to sound and touch: Almost there; we’re looking pretty good; it’s all about to happen; this is going to be amazing!

Calmness and solidarity of purpose: Ready. Everything looks right; everything feels right; everyone is in position.

Panic and self doubt: Why wasn’t there a line at the door? Is anyone going to come? Was this a terrible idea in the first place? I can’t afford for this not to work.

Total absorption in work and an extremely narrowed focus: Wow, it’s really busy. Everyone seems happy. We are almost keeping up; we need to go faster; we need to go much faster. Touch more tables … make them happy no matter what.

Complete relief and a feeling of having learned and grown more in hours than in the past several years: It worked. We built it, and they came. We are going to do an even better job tomorrow.”

-photo by Ashley Gieseking

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