owner of the gramophone, roo yawitz photo by virginia harold

Roo Yawitz of The Gramophone pivoted from sandwiches to philanthropy

Roo Yawitz and his wife, Kim Yawitz, opened The Gramophone in the Grove in 2008 as a small concert venue. In 2015, they started offering sandwiches. “I never intended to be a restaurateur, but they were a big hit,” he said. “We decided running a music club was exhausting and thought maybe a different business would work in the same location.” The Gramophone has since bridged the gap with a lunch-to-late-night menu of beloved sandwiches. When the coronavirus pandemic reached St. Louis in March, Yawitz helped found the far-reaching Gateway Resilience Fund, which got nearly $1.9 million to those in need in the local hospitality industry. Here’s how Yawitz went from owner of a music venue-turned-sandwich shop to philanthropist.

“Sturgill Simpson’s first two shows in St. Louis were at The Gramophone. The first time, there were about 12 people, and the second there were like 80. When he saw the room was full, he was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize anybody in St. Louis had heard of me.’ He’s gone on to great things.”

“It seems like so long ago, but in the first week of March, I was talking with Gerard [Craft] about his restaurants and mine and restaurants in general. We just had a feeling that the hospitality industry was on the front edge of those that would be negatively impacted [by the pandemic] and that there might be an opportunity to create a fast-moving direct relief fund for the industry that was likely gonna have massive layoffs and to get funds to them before they were even able to access unemployment.”

“Knowing it’s an industry that people don’t have a lot of savings – you know, they work off tips and cash – people would’ve been buying groceries off their tips from the night before. I saw there was gonna be a massive need, so we made something big the community could rally behind.”

“Almost all of it has gone out in direct checks of $500 to individual people and independent retail except for 20 small business grants that went to downtown businesses in the very first couple weeks because we got a restricted donation from [Downtown STL Inc.], and they wanted to do $25,000 grants.”

The [St. Louis] Community Foundation deserves all of the credit. They had the infrastructure in place to get it up and running in eight days. I got a logo created and came up with the name, but they did all the real work of building an application and distributing and receiving those and writing tons of checks and getting them mailed out.”

“The foundation has a whole file of ‘thank yous’ about how important it was. That $500 is not going to get somebody through for a huge amount of time, but the fact that the community got together … every little bit helps.”

“One positive thing to come out of all this is that a lot of restaurateurs that didn’t know each other are now much more in communication. The St. Louis restaurant entrepreneurs are already a collaborative and tight-knit group, but I think more so now than ever knowing we’re in this battle together.”