ST. LOUIS — In a way, restaurants and grocery stores are competitors. You’re either going to cook up a meal at home or order up a meal from a restaurant, right?
So, why is a St. Louis area grocery store chain reaching across the aisle to help keep bakeries, barbecue joints and fast-casual restaurants afloat?
“It’s the right thing to do,” Andy DeCou said simply.
DeCou is the go-to guy for cheese at Schnucks. He seeks out the best brie, perfect parmesans and goudas that are better than good and brings them to Schnucks stores all around the St. Louis area.
“I'm spreading the gospel of cheeses to the world,” he told Abby Llorico during an interview for 5 On Your Side’s Abby Eats St. Louis podcast.
But since COVID-19 changed the way we shop at grocery stores, his role has changed, too.
He first noticed an Indiana creamery’s call for help on Facebook in March. When restaurants closed down, they lost 75% of their business overnight, he recalled. That led to working with local creameries to get their products on grocery store shelves and selling them for as close to cost as possible, so the profit goes straight to the small businesses.
And like a fine cheese, the idea only got better over time.
“We started having conversations about what else can we do to help the community out,” DeCou said.
Schnucks reached out to several local restaurants and worked up a plan to package and sell their menu items in grocery stores for the first time ever. The process took a few weeks, and it wasn’t easy at times. They worked with the restaurants to navigate food safety, insurance and the packaging itself.
In the end, six local food spots made it onto store shelves: Revel Kitchen, Crispy Edge, Seoul Taco, Nudo House, Crushed Red and Hotbox Cookies.
While restaurants were struggling to make ends meet during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, DeCou and Schnucks stepped up to help, one burrito, pot sticker or cookie at a time.
“We're actually doing something to help them out, and it's something tangible,” DeCou said. “It's really, really helping keep the lights on in these restaurants.”
In July, more items were added, this time with a focus on Black-owned businesses. You can now find Royally Baked, The Fattened Caf, Patty’s Cheesecakes, Cathy’s Kitchen, Ms. Piggie’s Smokehouse and Bold Spoon Creamery on Schnucks shelves.
In explaining why a grocery store chain is invested in helping restaurants succeed, DeCou said it’s not only the right thing to do, it also just makes sense.
“[Restaurants are] bringing that new and different stuff to the community. They're the leaders in that. They're gonna bring it to the customers first,” he explained. “And grocery stores are usually, and rightly so, following behind that.”
Through this whole ordeal, DeCou has learned just how close-knit the St. Louis food community is. Restaurants helped fellow restaurants navigate the packaging process. He’s developed relationships with the businesses.
“It's like family and you're going to help family that are down. It's kind of like community, the same thing. If your neighbors are hurting and they need something, we'll do what we can to help,” he said.
And he said Schnucks is in it for the long haul. Don’t expect these food scene partnerships to go away when the coronavirus does.
“It’s definitely something that we’re looking at to continue long term, even after things return to normal or whatever normal is,” he said.
This story is a companion piece to the Abby Eats St. Louis podcast episode called "Aisle be there for you". You can download the episode for free and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We've included links below to some of the most popular podcast platforms.