Several years ago, restaurant industry veteran Michael “Kup” Kupstas was happily enjoying retirement when the appeal of Lion’s Choice prompted a change of plans. He wound up reentering the workforce in 2017 as the regional fast-food chain’s president and CEO.
“It was really the similarity of an experience I had early on [in a previous role] with Panera, to be honest,” Kupstas said on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, explaining what impressed him about Lion’s Choice. “I think what makes certain brands stand out is that they are able to differentiate dramatically in a really crowded field.”
Kupstas told host Sarah Fenske that he was also drawn to the “loyal, fanatic fans” and the employees of Lion’s Choice, which Food & Wine magazine recently deemed Missouri’s best fast food.
“We just gave a team member who’s been slicing roast beef for us for 42 years [her] service award,” Kupstas said.
In addition to garnering praise from Food & Wine, the company has recently been opening some new stores and remodeling older ones — and now has a food truck. Lion’s Choice is also bringing back some old favorites when it comes to the menu.
“In 2007, we introduced a product line of platters, which was basically our roast beef on Texas toast with some delicious gravy, mashed potatoes and green beans,” Kupstas said. “We just brought those back, and we have heard from our guests immediately: ‘It’s been too long! Why did it take so long [to bring those back]?’”
But the 52-year-old company is also looking to the future and even exploring plant-based alternatives to meat.
“I don’t think it’s about attempting to duplicate roast beef flavor in a plant-based protein,” Kupstas said when asked to elaborate on what he envisions. “I think it is [about] giving folks more reasons to visit Lion’s Choice throughout the week … we’re looking at every option right now, but I think what is important is not to mimic the thing that’s made us famous for 52 years and to provide something that maybe there’s already a hole in the menu for.”
The St. Louis on the Air team conducted a taste test leading up to the live segment, since several members had never tried Lion’s Choice:
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Alexis Moore. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.
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