from left, mike johnson, ben hillman and kurt eller photo courtesy of gastronauts food group

Hi-Pointe Drive-In, Taco Buddha create Gastronauts Food Group with national expansion plans in the works

The teams behind beloved St. Louis restaurants Hi-Pointe Drive-In and Taco Buddha have teamed up to create Gastronauts Food Group with plans to open more locations of both restaurants around Missouri and the U.S. over the next few years.

The new restaurant group aims to “assist both brands in sustainable growth with streamlined operational efficiencies, collaborative marketing, while allowing each to maintain the ethos of their independent brands that guests have grown to love,” according to a statement.

“I have such great respect for [founder and partner] Kurt [Eller] and what he's built at Taco Buddha, in terms of quality and commitment to customers and community. Both concepts share similar values, and we’ve run our restaurants in very similar ways,” Gastronauts President Ben Hillman said in the release. “Gastronauts Food Group will allow us to have the ethos and integrity of small brands with our people-first approach, but we’ll be able to better compete with the big chains because of our scale. This will also give our team members growth and leadership opportunities for a career in hospitality. We are very proud to be from St. Louis and build these brands here, and a big part of our Gastronauts Food Group strategy is to let the rest of the country know what St. Louis-grown brands are all about.”

Hi-Pointe chef and partner Mike Johnson will remain an owner and partner of the Sugarfire Restaurant Group during this time of growth for his other business. “Gastronauts is such a natural extension of Hi-Pointe. Our vision has always been to bring that old-school delicious diner back into everyday life with a fun, non-traditional twist,” Johnson said in a release. “Ben and I have made huge strides growing the business over the past few years, and Gastronauts is going to help us give the people what they want, more burgers and more of the ‘Hi Life.’” 

Between the two restaurants’ many locations, they employee roughly 350 employees and are hoping to double that number in the coming years. While they plan to soon open storefronts in less-served local markets such as St. Charles, South County and West County, that is only the beginning.

"Our end goal with Gastronauts Food Group is national expansion. This group helps us further define who we are as individual brands and collectively. We are adventurous, playful, and we don't take ourselves too seriously," Hillman said in the release. "We've always pushed the boundaries of creativity and embraced exploring new frontiers in food and hospitality culture. We gravitate toward brands that have differentiators and staying power that do one thing really well – hence the tacos and burgers. This doesn’t change anything from a customer experience perspective. It just prepares us for sustainable growth to bring our individual brands to more people.”

Eller echoed the sentiment. “Ben has been a sounding board for our business as a friend for quite some time,” he said in a statement. “We’ve spent the last decade developing a brand and a team that we’re really proud of, but I knew that I couldn’t continue to grow it alone. This new partnership ensures that we can continue to grow to support our team. We are both aligned in how we want to grow our brands, and Hi-Pointe is a great counterbalance brand to Taco Buddha. We’re excited to collaborate and learn from one another in the future.”

In celebration of the expansion, the restaurants will be offering collaborative specials throughout the month of May at all their locations. Follow along on social media for updates.