With the monumental arch as a constant reminder of the flexibility of St. Louis, the Missouri City, which has seen its share of ups and downs in recent years, is like an old friend bustling with new adventures to explore.
Featuring more barbeque eateries than you could ever experience in one weekend, a slew of new art galleries, and numerous cafes and watering holes, St. Louis an ideal midwestern getaway to reconnect, eat good and savor the art of self-discovery. My daughter and I recently spent three days in St. Louis experiencing the very best in Black culture and entrepreneurship. Here are the spots I recommend for your next road trip.
Rich in colorful imagery, the Angad Arts Hotel is a unique experience in that each room has a designated color palette depending on the mood of its patron. The arts hotel celebrates local talent by displaying their work in every inch of the property. I chose a green room from the choices of red, yellow, blue, or purple, which featured a number of green specialty items, like an umbrella, a reading chair, and bold painting above the bed because I was in the mood for a wealth of new adventures.
Before turning, in we grabbed a steak from Prime 55. As the birthplace of modern barbeque ribs, St. Louis is bubbling over with assortments of St. Louie-style meats. Prime 55 originally marketed itself as St. Louis’s new sexy restaurant experience, but the atmosphere has a homey vibe to it. Part of a growing trend of Black-owned restaurants that opened in 2019, not even a year later COVid-19 hit, threatening the success of the business. But because of a commitment co-owners and childhood friends Orlando Watson and Tony Davis, made to the staff to continue to generate income for them and their families, the restaurant never had to fully close its doors.
“It wasn’t even an employee or employer situation anymore, we just went in, bought the food together, cooked it together, and I served the drive-up customers, running food out to their cars and sanitizing after every shift and we all split the profits. Eventually, we let the bartender come in and make drinks to go. We told him that he could bring in his own supply and that the money was his to keep. It became a way for the staff to make money and stay afloat. Closing wasn’t an option.”
9 am. Saturday morning we took a yoga class on N. Market Street with The Collective STL. The husband and wife team have created a safe space on the old north side of the city for Black folks to come and experience their yoga practice authentically. Offering classes, fresh veggies from their garden, and warm apple cider, this studio was a true breath of fresh air.
The Collective invited me to an hour-long class taught by founder and co-owner Erica Harris, who only interjected when giving instructions on a pose or alternatives so everybody could be a part of the experience.
“Since COV-19, we’ve brought the practice outside, so every Saturday morning we’re here and [we] invited the community to join us and just breathe with us because it was needed with all of the stress and uncertainty that we’re dealing with right now,” said Harris. As a result of civil unrest seen in the city over the summer, The Collective partnered with the Missouri Historical Society to launch “Just Breathe,” a five-week wellness series that began at the end of July.
“We know that Black people just like to be in the company of other Black people, said Terry Harris, co-owner and operator. “Black people in St. Louis are no different than Black people in Detroit, so we created a space where we can, as Black people, be in community with each other and move our bodies a little bit.”
10:30 am. Next, we headed to Pharoah Donuts for breakfast. This sultry eatery just made downtown it’s home in January after moving from another location. Co-owners and father-daughter duo Amon Aziz and Syeeda Aziz-Morris have been bringing Pharaoh’s Donuts to close to 50 gas stations and corner stores in Missouri and Illinois for over 20 years. Their assortment includes old-school favorites like glazed donuts, cinnamon rolls, apple fritters, lemon-filled donuts, and donut holes as well as new school flavors like buttermilk cake, blueberry cake, vanilla- and chocolate-iced long johns, and my favorite, red velvet.
“Love is what makes these donuts so popular, says shift manager Rodney. “I have a family that drives from Denver every year with their family just to get donuts. The owner’s been doing this for over 20-plus years. It’s simple ingredients but with a lot of love.”
11 am. Inside the Angad Arts Hotel playroom area we shared a coloring session with graphic designer and new small business owner Valeria Rodriguez, author of the coloring book Shine in all Shades that celebrates the faces of Black and brown women in history through creative illustrations.
“I’m a graphic designer by trade and an artist at heart. Being an entrepreneur is very lonely and challenges having a partner that respects who I am and where I’m at and where I’m going with no restrictions, which makes the relationship I have with my company possible,” said Rodriquez. “I was tired of being too creative and outspoken in certain spaces so I was often restricting myself for the sake of keeping my job so starting my own business was tough, especially going at it full time at the beginning of this year.”
Rodriguez’s first product, the Shine in all Shades coloring book, has proved to be the ego booster needed to step out into business ownership. The empowerment coloring book series was all handwritten, designed, and self-published by Rodriguez. “It’s crazy how much hatred is in our culture and how we see ourselves and this coloring book is creating safe spaces for women to feel beautiful.”
I found the coloring session to be therapeutic and even bought the book as part of our commitment to filling in the pages.
1:30 pm. I had breakfast for Lunch with Jennifer Pointdexter of the St Louis visitor bureau and Kevin Johnson of the Stl. Louis Dispatch at Egg. The restaurant is a perfect mixture of flavors from Tanzania, Mexico, and America, all plated into scrumptious breakfast and brunch dishes with refreshing cocktails. Co-owners Lassaad Jeliti and Mengesha Yohannes (also co-owners of Bar Italia restaurant) seem more like brothers than business partners who work tediously to create a family atmosphere at their restaurants. Their second Egg location hosted us to a spread of mollettes; flaky toast topped with grilled veggies, beans, cheese, and an egg; and carnitas which were placed atop crispy fried corn sopes, beans, queso fresco, and a fried egg with a slither of hot tomato salsa. The french toast swimming in blueberry juice completed the meal.
“The name ‘Egg’ came about as a kind of tongue-in-cheek thing. I always wanted to have a breakfast menu and we serve eggs the way we like them,” said Jelifi. After COV-19 hit, we had to keep functioning just for the sake of the staff. We had people that depended on us. We only worked with the core group and limited the menu. We had to order from distributors and get things delivered but we didn’t want to get sucked into doing business forever with them, the big corporate companies like Cisco and other food distributors in the game because once those guys get a hold of you, they’re back every week. But we are a family and we wanted to make sure that the people that are at the heart of this thing could take care of their families, so we made sacrifices. Now we take an added level of responsibility because we’re bringing people to our establishment.”
4 pm. Next, we did some shopping with Letitia Young, owner of Honey’s Child Plus Size Boutique. Nine years ago, Young opened the doors to what would be St. Louis’s first plus-size boutique and business has grown so rapidly that she’s created an online distribution center inside the CIC Building to house her current inventory and process her online orders.
“Being a trailblazer in plus-size stores, especially here in St. Louis, and meeting the demands of a growing customer base, God has really blessed us, keeping customers coming back,” said Young. “I was the first plus-size boutique in St. Louis and I’ve blown the roof off the notion that there aren’t enough selections or customers in plus-size fashion.”
Honey’s Child was named after Young’s mother who, after the death of her husband, raised her children to be the best and lead by example. “A lot of people discredit St. Louis, but St. Louis used to be one of the fashion hubs of the world,” Young said. “I don’t think there’s any level that we won’t go to keep our customers happy which is why we didn’t experience a downside after the pandemic; it was actually a huge uptick. We had to hire more people and invested more dollars into advertising while nurturing the customers we already had.”
8 pm. By Saturday night I was in need of some live music. The cover band Love Jones was playing at BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups and the bar was open so I headed down. BB’s has been a part of the St. Louis downtown scene for more than 50 years. The kitchen makes hot catfish nuggets, the bar serves cold Budweisers, and the stage feeds your soul with your favorite R&B jams from the ’90s.
Love Jones was founded by keyboard player Kent Love and consists of songstress Cheri Evans who belted out tunes by Jill Scott, Eric Benet, and Erykah Badu. “We are a tight-knit community of artists here in St. Louis and we relied on each other when the pandemic hit,” said Love. “It’s how we survive as artists. We share opportunities, we help each other mentally and we celebrate and mourn together.”
The St. Louis musical community recently lost blues singer and legend Kim Massie who meant a great deal to musicians like the members of Love Jones. Suffering from a devastating heart attack right on the stage at BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soup venue, Massie made a home in the blues genre but mastered gospel and soul, opening for national acts including Stevie Wonder, Adele and the late Etta James.
11am. We started the morning in the mood for art and it’s lucky we were staying in an artsy side of the city called Grand Center, dubbed the epicenter of creativity where a slew of galleries, studios, and museums live, including the Cransberg Art Center, the Contemporary Art Museum, and the Sheldon.
On November 1, the Angad hotel debuted two new exhibits celebrating the work of Black artists. Entitled Black Nonpariel and Imperfect Pixels, the display features 18 St. Louis artists in the gallery space of the hotel and throughout its public spaces. Multidisciplinarian Tai Davis, one of the artists on exhibit, allowed us to view his piece Son of Senegal, a self-portrait about how he sees himself and how he thinks others sometimes see him.
“I stopped putting labels on what I do two years ago when I quit my job and now I just do whatever I love,” Davis said. “When we label ourselves one specific thing, it puts limitations on us. I’m the type of person that has my hands in multiple things.”
Known in some circles as a cellist, Davis has carved a name for himself as an artistic chef, model, and community organizer. “Growing up it was hard for me to find a sense of self because we always moved around so finding out who I was became difficult. I had to come to the realization that I could do what made me happy. Going through the pandemic allowed me to create more art.”
1:20 pm We were running late to take pics for the gram at C. Oliver Coffee + Flower Bar with owner Olivia Ridgel who celebrated her first year in operation in September. Decked in floral prints of soft pinks, white and yellow, Oliver’s Coffee + Flower bar is too adorable for words. Six months pregnant with her first child, yet still committed to carving out her own safe space, Ridgel created this coffee house because she didn’t feel comfortable anywhere else.
“I’ve loved coffee since I was nine and officially started drinking it at the age of 13. So as I got older and began doing so much reading and writing, I found that the cafes that I visited weren’t esthetically pleasing or very welcoming to me,” said Ridgel. “I always had this vision in my head of what a cafe would be, open, airy, full of white walls and accents of gold and beautiful flower walls. People can come here and feel at home and creative because that’s how I feel when I come here. I’ve been to enough places where I didn’t feel like I belonged or the customer service was horrible so I created this space for you to have a place to come and experience peace.”
A soft Christian song played in the background as we sipped our new favorite drink, the strawberry chai tea – hot — and a feeling of peace washed over me.
3 pm. We met Steve from the famous St. Louis Steve’s Hot Dogs to chow down on a hot dog topped with bacon, cheese and hot peppers.
“What makes this location of Steve’s special is that we took over a corner that had laid vacant for more than 20 years,” said owner and operator Steve Ewing. “The neighborhood was just starting to get on its feet again and when my friend opened the bar next door (Tik Tok bar) he said that they’d need food to accompany the corner and Steve’s Hot Dogs was born. Because I live right around the corner, this spot has become the hub of the neighborhood.”
Serving hot dogs with names like bacon, bacon Jamaican, prince Akeem, and donkey burger, Steve’s flavor-filled comfort food became a huge component to keeping his block afloat. “When the city was shut down, we were one of the businesses that were deemed essential so we offered curbside pick ups and drop off. Most days it was just me and two other staff members. I learned a lot about myself during that time because we were working like crazy and I kinda got to learn how much I could put in to come out on the other end.”
What are your favorite Black-owned spots in St. Louis?