ST. LOUIS — Culpepper’s. Scape. Schneithorst’s. Café Ventana. Southtown Pub. Beale on Broadway...
All St. Louis area spots that operated for years—some of them, decades—serving up plenty of good food and drinks, often the setting of a family birthday dinner or a romantic date, a happy hour with friends or a gathering to watch the game.
And all of them closed in 2019.
Why do we have to say goodbye so often? Sometimes it’s just time. A chef wants to redirect passions. Or a lease is up.
But sometimes we can do something… and one place in St. Louis is proof of that.
“Mostly all of my friends here I’ve met through the West End Grill,” said Carolyn Kaiser, who moved to St. Louis almost six years ago.
She stumbled into the joint affectionately nicknamed WEGAP and came to love all the people who came with it.
“Immediately we just started coming every single day. People introduce you to other people in here. The bartenders and owners and staff were friendly. And so, it because more like home away from home here. This was the spot,” she explained to Abby Llorico on an episode of the Abby Eats St. Louis podcast.
Carolyn was part of a group of neighbors who rescued West End Grill & Pub when it suddenly closed in 2019.
How to save your favorite restaurant
WEGAP proved to be recession-proof, but business slowed as the years went on. Owner Will Roth called it a slow burn over time.
“It's the easiest thing to do is to go out of business in the restaurant business. The old joke is if you want to make $1 million in the restaurant business, start out with $2 million. And it's true. I mean, it is. It takes a lot of money to keep it going,” Roth said.
They made the decision to close at the end of 2018 and sell the space in the Central West End to new owners. But things fell through and former patrons started wondering what was going on. Neighbors weren’t satisfied saying goodbye and walking past the shuttered doors of their once-beloved hangout. So, they started thinking: What if they could do something to bring it back?
“We just kind of all got together and started talking about what if we do a type of an investment in it from a neighborhood perspective,” Kaiser said.
Kaiser, her husband and several neighbors didn’t just put up the money, they put in the work—giving WEGAP a refresh, getting the menu ready, even learning how to help with table service for the grand reopening weekend.
What can people do to protect their go-to places?
If you want to make sure your favorite neighborhood spot stays open, it’s important to stay involved, said WEGAP kitchen manager Logan Maus.
“The more community involvement you have in a restaurant, the more likely you are to survive as a restaurant,” Maus said. “Because people then start to feel that neighborhood involvement. They start to feel the community. They start to feel that living room effect of coming into the restaurant and saying, ‘Oh, hey, there's Johnny,’ or, ‘Hey, there's Carol, there's Eric. I haven't seen you guys in a week. How have you been?’ It's an amazing thing to me. We just kind of try […] to encourage everybody to literally just get involved as much as possible. Let that restaurant know […] that you're there, you're caring and that you're going to try and get other people there as well.”
Kaiser echoed that sentiment. If you love a place—go—and make the restaurant feel that love.
“We hear so many things about things closing down and people say, ‘Oh, I love that place so much. I’m so sad to see it gone, but I hadn’t been there in years.’ Umm, you have to go; you have to go out,” she emphasized. “In this time of social media where you can sit down on your own couch by yourself and talk to a thousand people, you need to go out and actually talk to people. You need to reach out and you need to hug and you need to say hello.”
About Abby Eats St. Louis
Abby Llorico 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.
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