ST. LOUIS — For 12 years, Caya Aufiero and her husband ran a successful business called Urban Eats Cafe at the corner of Meramec Street and Virginia Avenue in St. Louis' Dutchtown neighborhood.
But the couple had to unexpectedly shut down their shop due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We did a good job for a long time and worked very hard at it, so we're sad to close that social experience," said Aufiero.
Aufiero said she and her husband remain committed to the neighborhood where they live and worked, so after the entrepreneurs closed their cafe, they opened their building for a new venture — Urban Eats Neighborhood Food Mall.
"We are hoping to help in this revitalization of the area during the pandemic. We're super excited and it's going very well," said Aufiero.
For the last seven months, they have provided space for new, diverse restaurants.
"Our diverse neighborhood has people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds and we pride ourselves on that. This is a great opportunity to offer start up businesses (and) restaurants a way to get their foot in the door and test their concept without the tremendous amount of risks and outlay of cash required to start new businesses," Aufiero said.
She added there's space in the building for five full-time restaurants and some pop-up restaurants.
Popular, new Mexican and soul food-creole style restaurants, and a pastry shop are just a few of the dozen businesses popping up in Dutchtown.
"I was a little nervous," said Tracy Mertens, who opened the Forget Me Not Boutique, a clothing store, two months ago.
"January is typically a low month for retail in general, but this month is picking up nicely, so I think we're gonna do well," she said.
Neighbors said since the 1990s, Dutchtown has steadily grown on many levels. And now that the small businesses are popping up, they're hoping their neighborhood will get a much-needed, economic boost.
"I'm also very excited. A lot of positive things are going on here — new shops, new business owners, new homeowners. It's definitely a new beginning for Dutchtown," said LaTasha Smith, the owner of Cross Grand Creative Agency, a photography studio that opened seven months ago.
A new sushi bar and a smoothie shop will also soon open at the Urban Eats Neighborhood Food Hall.