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How a winter hibernation helped Bogart's fire up the smokers once again

The Bogart's owner and GM said the temporary closure helped them reopen in spring, along with another round of federal funding and the opening of Pappy's St. Peters
Credit: Facebook: Bogart's Smokehouse

ST. LOUIS — What seemed like a risky move at the time ended up helping save one of St. Louis’ beloved barbecue joints.

Bogart’s Smokehouse in Soulard is back in business after shutting down for nearly six months. The restaurant, which is part of the Pappy’s family of businesses, decided to temporarily close last October as COVID-19 restrictions tightened and temperatures started to drop. Bogart’s General Manager Liz Eckhard called it a nerve-racking decision.

"It was nerve-racking because, you know, it was going to be a cold winter and long. So, I don't know how else to put it but besides nerve-racking,” Eckhard told Abby Llorico on a recent episode of the Abby Eats St. Louis podcast.

“It was the right decision. It really was,” added Bogart’s general manager Niki Puto. “There's no regrets.”

LISTEN: Subscribe to the Abby Eats St. Louis podcast

Going into “hibernation” for the winter wasn’t a totally new idea for the restaurant, though. Eckhard and Puto said the team tossed around the possibility off and on since 2018 – January and February aren’t exactly prime months for pulled pork ribs and baked beans. The pandemic and an already limited indoor seating layout led the idea to become a reality.

“We're super lucky in that we looked at it and we made the hard decisions early on and that allowed us to reopen Bogarts now,” Puto said.

But having the family of Pappy’s restaurants made the temporary closure an even easier possibility.

Along with some creative thinking and a leap of faith in the middle of the pandemic, Bogart’s was able to keep all employees on the payroll, even while the restaurant was closed. A brainstorming session led to a new restaurant and new opportunities for employees in parts of the St. Louis area where restrictions weren’t as tight.

“We were just like, we could borrow equipment from Southern and Bogart’s to open Pappy’s St. Peters,” Eckhard said. Fried chicken restaurant Southern also temporarily closed for the winter and is expected to reopen soon.

Bogart’s and Southern temporarily closed the first week of October, while the new Pappy’s St. Peters location opened a few weeks later. Employees were able to shift to other locations.

Even with the temporary closure, Puto and Eckhart acknowledged the doors wouldn’t be open and the smoker wouldn’t be fired up without the help of the federal government and another round of stimulus support.

“We wouldn't have made it without the second round of funding just to be able to just go on,” Puto said.

“So, we wouldn’t be on this podcast and having this conversation with you,” Eckhard added.

“Even if we would have said we're going to close for eight weeks and then we're going to reopen in January. If your average check, let's say, is $25, but you can only put 12 people in your restaurant and it's wintertime, no matter how much people were being amazing and supporting restaurants, it just wouldn't have happened feasibly in any way, shape or form,” Puto explained.

Bogart’s is pushing through, along with so many other restaurants in the St. Louis area. They’re doing it not just with the financial help of another round of funding, but with the ever-supportive St. Louis restaurant industry.

“The St. Louis restaurant scene is super tight,” Puto said. “Everybody’s always willing to help each other out. That’s a beautiful thing about St. Louis restaurants. No one’s afraid of competition. We all just want to get along because we find that the more we’re support of each other, that lifts us up.”

You can hear more of the Abby Eats St. Louis interview with Bogart's on the recent episode titled "Wake up and smell the BBQ".

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About the Abby Eats St. Louis podcast:

The Abby Eats St. Louis podcast tells the story of St. Louis based on what’s on the table. From the hunger for local ingredients, to the booming brunch scene and the craving for creative cocktails, Abby dives into the nitty-gritty of how St. Louis grew to become the foodie town that it is. 

Subscribe and download weekly episodes for free wherever you get your podcasts. We've included links below to some of the most popular podcast platforms.

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