'Restaurant Impossible' Saved A Ferguson Restaurant — Twice
“Restaurant: Impossible” is a show on the Food Network where celebrity chef Robert Irvine helps failing restaurants across the country turn their businesses around in 48 hours. He’s brutally honest, but the reward is worth the critiques.
Drake’s Place is a testament to that process. The show helped turn the struggling Ferguson-based community hub around. And in the minds of its owners, Bridgett and Deundrake “Sonny” Lewis, Irvine soon moved from intimidating chef to friend.
“Business was great,” Bridgett said. “We were actually on an up climb. We were busy everyday from start to finish. It wasn’t like there were people lined outside the door, but there was a constant presence from our customers inside the restaurant.”
Then, just as things started looking up, the coronavirus pandemic shattered the restaurant industry. And while the Lewises were getting used to their renovated space, they realized that even the new business models they put in place couldn’t provide them with immunity from the economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis.
“The morale was good, then all of a sudden — boom," Sonny said.
Before the pandemic hit, most of their business came from dine-in customers.. “For us to transition to all carry-out was kind of difficult," Bridgett added.
Irvine helped the restaurant readjust their offerings and renovated the patio to accommodate social distancing guidelines for outdoor seating.
“When [Irvine] came back, he noticed there were some things we could have on our menu [that work as] carry out … since then, we have been pretty blessed with having different types of foods, because we started a smokehouse and that helped tremendously,” Sonny said.
On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with the co-owners about their experience on “Restaurant: Impossible” and what plans they have for their business moving forward.
One initiative Drake’s Place is working on is selling their revered house salad dressing to retailers, such as Schnucks supermarket.
“This was an old recipe that I had,” Sonny said. “It has a different taste to it. Some people say it’s like a creamy Italian [dressing], and some people say it has a peppery [bite] to it.”
On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, we'll talk more about a partnership between Schnucks and local Black entrepreneurs. The grocery chain is providing local restaurants a space to sell grab-and-go options in their stores, as the restaurant scene/business model continues to evolve in the wake of the pandemic.
“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 and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.