‘Joy in the Morning’ found joy at the Fountain on Locust. She’s ready for a new chapter
When Joy Grdnic Christensen first decided to open a restaurant, outsiders could be forgiven for thinking it was a terrible idea. Back in 2008, Christensen was known mostly for her radio work — the Millstadt, Illinois, native first went on air as a DJ at 17, becoming KSHE’s “Joy in the Morning” and forming a comedy duo with fellow DJ Ron Stevens, whom she married at 19.
After a successful run there, they found on-air success in Los Angeles, New York and San Diego. She was a great talker, not a food service professional.
Beyond that, she’d set her sights on a neglected part of town. In those years, Locust Avenue just east of Grand Center was a far cry from a destination.
“I was constantly going downtown with somebody, holding their hand, who got their license plate stolen,” Christensen recalled. “It was a mess.”
But Christensen had an idea, one that sounds simple only if you know nothing about the restaurant business.
“My whole concept there was I wanted to make it a place that was not only beautiful to be in, but delicious and fresh, [and also] inexpensive,” she explained on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air. “And usually you can't do all three of those; you can only do two of those. But because we own the building, then I was able to set the prices. And it was so fun.”
Thirteen years later, the Fountain on Locust remains a hit. Christensen’s sandwiches, dill pickle soup and ice cream martinis may have originally felt like a surprising combination, but they’ve brought local diners back time and again for more.
Christensen recalled a compliment once paid by the attendant at a local lot: “Oh, I always know when people leave come from your place, because they're always happy.” That makes her happy, too.
Yet Christensen is leaving the restaurant she founded. Last week, she announced that she and Stevens were turning over the restaurant to another local couple: Danni and Marcus Eickenhorst, who co-own Steve’s Hot Dogs.
“I was like, ‘Well gee, I'm old. I have to not run out of time to do all the things I want to do,’” Christensen said. “So I have to pass this on to somebody, and hopefully somebody who cannot ruin it.”
Christensen is filled with plans for her next chapter. Originally an artist (she personally painted the murals at the Fountain on Locust), she’s rehabbing a house in Soulard. She also plans to continue her entrepreneurial work on Locust, with a “experiential owner-generated special media platform thing” that she declines to discuss in too much depth just yet. She’s looking at a pop-up bar at some point maybe too.
First, though, she’ll celebrate her restaurant years at the Fountain on Locust this Sunday. All are welcome from 1 to 3 p.m. to the street outside the eatery. Christensen plans to show off the new upstairs event space she completed during the pandemic to anyone who’s interested.
The street party isn’t her only celebration this month. On Oct. 24, Christensen and Stevens will also celebrate 47 years of marriage.
“The good thing is as time goes on you things get easier and you actually love each other more,” she said. “But things get easier because you fight so much, you went through all those fights, and you kind of worked it out. So you know, you finish each other's sentences and all this stuff and you start to smell alike and people start to look alike ….”
And after that, the woman who started working as a DJ before she graduated from high school wants to catch her breath. “I hope that I could take a year off and, like, travel and read.”
She added, “I’m so retired I went to McDonald’s the other day!”
What: Joy Grdnic’s Farewell to the Fountain on Locust
When: 1-3 p.m. Sunday
Where: 3037 Locust St., St. Louis, MO 63103
“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. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.