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Mengesha Yohannes reflects on reopening Bar Italia

Nicki's Central West End Guide Food and Drink Shop News  Menghesha Johannes Dan Gualdoni Bar Italia

Bar Italia’s patio, 13 Maryland Plaza, is finally back in operation and open for dinner service. Mengesha Yohannes—”chief of everything”— said that while he initiated curbside pickup shortly after the COVID 19 shutdown, he wasn’t in a hurry to reopen the outdoor dining area until he had thoroughly considered what the “near future would look like.”

Mengesha was preaching to the choir when he said, “This has been a worldwide disaster caused by a tiny little virus, and we are never going back to where we were before.”

Nicki's Central West End Guide Food and Drink Shop News  Menghesha Johannes Dan Gualdoni Bar Italia

“My plans reflect reduced capacity as well as fewer events and parties—that’s the reality,” Mengesha continued. “We’re using the side panels from the tent as partitions to socially-distance diners according to the new guidelines, which has reduced our seating to 1/3 of what it was.”

He added that another reason for the delay in reopening was that it took time to get the core staff “in the groove.”

Nicki's Central West End Guide Food and Drink Shop News  Menghesha Johannes Dan Gualdoni Bar Italia

When fall comes, the tent will be reassembled and used as before, although with fewer tables.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Food and Drink Shop News  Menghesha Johannes Dan Gualdoni Bar Italia

Mengesha jokingly said, when describing the single-use menus which promote the wearing of masks, “Maybe I should change the name of the restaurant to “Mask, Mask, Mask.” Maybe not. After 37 years in the CWE, the name Bar Italia conjures up many memorable meals and great times starting when Dan Gualdoni and Joe Pirone opened the espresso bar/cafe where Starbucks is now located (Mengesha became a partner in 1985, two years after it opened), and later at the current location with its beautiful patio which is truly magical on a summer’s night.

With reduced seating the best nights to stop by for dinner are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays & Sundays. Friday and Saturdays are busier. Reservations are available, but walk-ins are welcome.

Bar Italia, 13 Maryland Plaza, open from 4 p.m. to 9-9:30 p.m., 314-361-7010. Curbside pick up is available too.

On Reopening: An interview with Provisions St. Louis’ Debra & Ross Hunter

Nicki's Central West End Guide Shop News  Wolfum Studio Provisions St. Louis Debra and Ross Hunter

Last week I stopped in to visit Provisions St. Louis‘ Debra and Ross Hunter to find out what the reaction has been to their reopening earlier this summer. The Hunters moved from Sonoma CA to the CWE and opened the shop at 228 N. Euclid in the fall of 2018.  I was also following up on a “q & a” I sent to learn more about what they were up to during the shut down (see below).

Debra reported that after being sequestered for so long customers said they were delighted to be doing something that felt familiar and normal, in fact “I would say they seem absolutely cheerful,” she continued—which is exactly how I have always felt when visiting the shop.Nicki's Central West End Guide Shop News  Wolfum Studio Provisions St. Louis Debra and Ross Hunter  Following are a couple of items that caught my eye the other day:

Nicki's Central West End Guide Shop News  Wolfum Studio Provisions St. Louis Debra and Ross Hunter

This might be the time to add backgammon to your repertoire as you spend more time at home, especially one as handsome as the handmade sets in Baltic birch created by Wolfum Studio above, $125 to $250. The L. A. based design studio also makes striking wooden trays in bold, contemporary patterns that Debra said have been popular gift items since the shop first opened.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Shop News  Wolfum Studio Provisions St. Louis Debra and Ross Hunter  A Brooklyn-based company adds leather straps and other finishes to great-looking market bags, $48 and $68. It was good to learn that these bags provide a source of income to the women in India who weave them.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Shop News  Wolfum Studio Provisions St. Louis Debra and Ross Hunter

The q & a follows:
1. What date did you close the shop due to the stay-at-home orders?
We closed the store on March 16th and reopened around Memorial Day.
2. Retail is tough enough, but then to lose the momentum you had created since opening in the fall of 2018 must have been a terrific challenge. How did you both survive that?
We had been mentally preparing for a couple of weeks and felt the most important aspect would be to stay positive and pass on that positivity through our social media.
And as luck would have it, we had been watching the trajectory of the virus and its ramifications since January, so we began to dial back our spring orders. Many, many businesses order months in advance, we prefer to be more flexible —offering a curated selection that is of the moment and relative to our customers.
3. Were you doing business online?  
We were not, but with the closure, we were able to take the time to develop an e-commerce website. We are truly a brick and mortar Main Street store where the sharing of conversations and experiences is the core of our business. However, it was always a goal to have a website where people could familiarize themselves with what we carry, who we are, and what we’re about.
4. How did you spend your time while you were home? I ran into Ross at Straub’s at least once, so I gather you both like to cook. Was there something you tackled during that time that you had been putting off? 
Well, the website development was omnipresent but we did ALOT of cooking—but in all fairness, we’re always doing a lot of cooking—everything from fresh falafel & pita bread to carnitas & homemade tortillas.
5. And finally, do you have any second thoughts about moving to St. Louis from wine country and opening a business here with all the challenges we face?
Not at all! There are challenges everywhere; we feel very at home here and love being a part of the St Louis and CWE community.
Speaking for many who have discovered Provisions St. Louis…we’re so glad they have put down roots here too.
Provisions St. Louis, 228 N. Euclid, Tues. through Sat. 11 to 6ish, Sun. Noon to 5ish.

StrEATery takes dining to the streets starting this weekend

Nicki's Central West End Guide Food and Drink Shop News  StrEATery CWE Scene CWE North Community Improvement District

Starting Friday, July 24, restaurants and bars in the Central West End are expanding their patios into the street to increase operations and provide a safe dining experience this summer. These “streateries” will be open along Euclid Avenue on Fridays and Saturdays from 5-10 p.m. All operations will be carried out in alignment with guidance from the City’s public health officials. Social distancing guidelines will be in place and masks will be required at all times when social distancing is not possible. There will also be additional hand washing stations at the ends of each dining section for patrons.

During these times, the following sections of Euclid Avenue will be closed to traffic:

  • Euclid North of McPherson to the first alley
  • Euclid South of McPherson to the first alley
  • Euclid North of Maryland to Carriage Lane/the first alley North of Maryland (5-10 p.m. only)

Maryland, McPherson, and all alleys will remain open. Adequate pedestrian clearance will be required on the sidewalks and participating businesses are required to follow ALL city guidelines for operating at this time. The CWE’s North Community Improvement District will ensure that the street is opened back up each night by 10:30 pm. More info about the program can be found here on CWEScene website.