ST. LOUIS — Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced restaurant owners to cook up different ways to dish out meals to diners, it was a challenging year for Steve Ewing.
The namesake behind Steve’s Hot Dogs and Burgers made the difficult decision in January to close up shop for good.
“Thank you for 11 unforgettable years,” his post on Facebook ended, announcing the Feb. 1 closure at the only remaining location in Tower Grove East.
“So that whole week of customers are coming in, I'm really having a conversation with every single one of them. And I knew so many of them. I'm just like, man, I don't know what to do now. I mean, they're all here and they didn't want me close. But, you know, my mind is like I'm out of money,” Ewing told Abby Llorico during a Zoom interview for an episode of the Abby Eats St. Louis podcast.
He turned that community support into partnerships with investors. Ewing fired up the grills again. Steve’s Hot Dogs was back in business.
Before every restaurant was having to drastically rethink how they were doing things, Ewing and his partner owners already were. They had that momentum pushing them forward already. And, it was working.
“We really had a lot going for us until COVID hit. And then it was just kind of deflating,” he said. “And then we had to just kind of keep picking it up, picking up, renovating, innovating, innovating.”
“So, it's been one of the craziest years ever.”
Crazy because he went from shutting down to winning a huge national prize.
This summer, Ewing came across Discover’s Eat it Forward Program. The credit card company was offering $25,000 to Black-owned businesses that could use a boost. He applied and launched a social media campaign asking friends and customers to throw their support behind his business.
In September, Ewing found out he won.
“It almost took my breath away. I couldn’t believe it,” he told 5 On Your Side at the time.
Ewing said the money will help him keep his employees on the payroll and get him through a typically slower winter season.
And it’ll allow him to continue giving back to the St. Louis community he loves.
Toward the beginning of the pandemic, Steve’s Hot Dogs launched “Feed the People,” an effort to get free food to families and people in need.
Ewing said he got help from all corners of the city, along with his friends and family. They worked together to donate and deliver food to people who suddenly needed a helping hand.
“It was like this crazy chorus of folks wanting to help out. I saw some unbelievable acts of kindness from this city during that period. I was pretty humbled by that. That was pretty awesome,” Ewing said.
Through all the ups and downs of this 2020 rollercoaster, Ewing said he’s learned a lot about himself, too.
“You learn how resilient you can be,” he said. “We got to a point where we had zero employees. So, it was me and a couple other people here and even my family chipped in to help. We are pretty much working 24/7 around the clock. That was physically tough, but we did it. And so at the end of that, you look at what I can do, like you get to know how tough you are, how deep you can go.”
What started out as a bleak beginning to 2020 has turned into a success story for Ewing and Steve’s Hot Dogs.
“We're still here. We're still standing. We're still positive. We fed nearly 2,500 people. So I would say that’s a success, just us being here.”
This story is a companion piece to the Abby Eats St. Louis podcast episode called “The show must go on — even in 2020”. 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.
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