In our monthly Sound Bites segment in partnership with Sauce Magazine, host Steve Potter spoke with the magazine’s executive editor Ligaya Figueras and local restaurateurs Chris Sommers and Mike Randolph about finding a good recipe for a successful restaurant.
“From March of 2013 through this past month, February 2014, we’ve had 70 restaurants close. What is surprising –and this is what tells you that our scene is still quite vital—is that we had by my count 147 openings. So two restaurants did open for every one that closed,” Figueras said.
Sommers is the co-owner of Pi Restaurants and the Central West End Mexican restaurant Gringo. Since the first Pi Pizzeria opened six years ago, Sommers and his business partner have opened a total of five restaurants in St. Louis and one in Washington, D.C. Another Pi Pizzeria will soon open in Cincinnati.
Figueras credits Sommers’ success to his business experience and his adept incorporation of social media in his marketing plan.
“We did have an advantage in that I came from outside of the restaurant industry, I didn’t bring a lot of bad habits, I also was able to bring some business acumen,” Sommers said. “I was able to surround myself with people who knew it better than I did, and sometimes that’s difficult for a lot of operators to do.”
Randolph is the chef/owner of two restaurants with plans to open another soon. His Neapolitan pizzeria The Good Pie reopened in the Loop last month. Half &Half, a breakfast and lunch venue in Clayton, has also been the site of two restaurant-within-a-restaurant concepts, both now closed. The first evening menu he tried was the Mexican-themed Medianoche. Then he switched to Little Country Gentleman, which served Midwestern cuisine.
“What is curious I think about Mike is how he has attempted to do what he wants to do while also doing it in the right location and meeting the public’s demand for the type of cuisine he wants to offer,” Figueras said.
After closing Little Country Gentleman at the end of 2013, Randolph is now focusing on opening a new restaurant in the Loop, a Mexican gastropub called Público.
“It’s going to be … a very old timey dark wood bar kind of feel. Extensive cocktails, maybe one or two margaritas but the emphasis is certainly going to be on whiskeys, mescals, tequilas, things of that nature. We’ll have tacos but we’re more focused on some interesting appetizers and a lot of roasted meats,” Randolph said.
Both Sommers and Randolph said making the decision to let someone go is the hardest part of running a restaurant, but sometimes it has to be done. Luckily Randolph has been able to find positions for a number of his Little Country Gentleman staff at his other restaurants.
Whatever Happened To ...?
We asked you, our listeners, to tell us about your favorite restaurant that’s closed and we wanted to know if you knew why. Here’s what you had to say, followed by answers from Sauce Magazine’s Ligaya Figueras.
Brenda wrote: I miss Duff’s - on Euclid, it was my Cheers. Great food, warm and wonderful staff, friendly, neighborly, creative, accessible, artsy but not pretentious. It was family and I miss it.
Suzie wrote: Zinnia in Webster Groves/Maplewood is still my favorite restaurant in St. Louis that has closed. They closed during the downturn in the economy because they were no longer able to make enough money to justify the hours involved in operating the business.
Shari wrote: Our favorite restaurant that closed was La Tropicana in South city. I cannot tell you how sad our entire family was to see this wonderful Cuban restaurant close. I am not sure but I think Luis and his family may have had family members to take care of and couldn't keep up the restaurant too. Our teenage son with autism was always welcome at Tropicana and the food was top-notch. It is sorely missed.
Barbara wrote: In my opinion, the best French restaurant in St. Louis was Café de France. It was originally downtown until there was talk of building a new Drury Inn in their building and they moved to Clayton for a while, but they were east of the bulk of the Clayton restaurants and didn't get enough traffic to stay open. I don't know what happened to the owners.
Cindy wrote: One of our family's favorite restaurants that has been closed for about a year or so is Mosaic. We frequented the branch in Des Peres and were making reservations (to use our Groupon) when we were informed that it had closed. Apparently, the owner moved to be near family in Australia. Needless to say, we were very sad and disappointed to hear about the closure.
Barbara wrote: My favorite restaurant that closed was Miso on Meramec. I don't know why it closed, perhaps because the owner was paying more attention to another restaurant he owned and not enough to Miso.
Paul wrote: My favorite restaurant that has closed -- and for reasons I am not aware -- is Il Vicino, located in Clayton.
Alex Heuer and Amanda Honigfort contributed to this report.
Cityscape is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer, hosted by Steve Potter and funded in part by the the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis, the Regional Arts Commission and the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.