Have you ever had one of those retrospective moments where you wonder how you “got here”? For those of you who know us and as I’m sure you can tell from Jenni’s blog we are fully committed foodies (and I count myself as a wino, don’t want to speak for Jenni on that front!). As we were talking recently we were just observing how much we love the experience, both dining out and dining in, around experimenting and really appreciating different venues, preparation styles, unique and new recipe & dish combinations, etc. That sparked the question – how in the heck did all of that start in the first place? Well – we agreed that it squarely rests on the shoulders of Steve Gontram.
By way of background, Steve and I graduated a year apart from high school in St. Louis; however, through the social circles we were part of and things like the soccer team we knew each other pretty well. Move forward into the college years and early adulthood and, as happens pretty often, we went our separate ways. Jenni and I were busy with raising small children and all that comes with being young parents and Steve was making some pretty radical changes in his career… Fast forward to the mid to late 90’s and lo and behold – there’s Steve’s grinning face on the cover of our high school’s alumni magazine – and he’s the owner and chef of a new restaurant called Harvest! Last I had known Steve had headed off to Georgetown for college and I just figured would go a more typical path – well, he did (trading bonds if memory serves) but decided he had a bigger passion and went for it – attending culinary school in the SF Bay Area, etc. and then culminating in opening Harvest.
Now on to how this intersects with our lives – up until the time the Harvest article came out we were more prone to frequent long-standing or chain venues and, other than the long-standing Italian restaurant tradition in St. Louis, really didn’t know the difference to any great degree. So we went to Harvest the first time with no real expectations and my oh my did we come away changed for life! Just seeing Steve for the first time in a long time would really have been enough to bring us back but the format, cuisine and service made us want to come back early and often, which we did over the ensuing years while Steve was the owner. In that same period we started looking for any and all opportunities to frequent similar venues and that love has really carried through and shows no sign of slowing down. In our opinion, Steve was really the spark behind what became a pretty vibrant independent restaurant scene in St. Louis. There is one other venue with whom Steve attempts to share credit but frankly, the opening of Harvest and his fostering of groups like the St. Louis Originals really kicked this into high gear.
So this love of independent restaurants and creative & innovative cuisine carries with us today. It extends to many friendships we’ve built with venue owners (e.g. Dino & Jules at The Tenderloin Room and John & Sunny at (the former) Terrene restaurant) over the years, new and great venues in St. Louis (e.g. Steve’s newest venue since selling Harvest several years back – 5 Star Burgers and Josh & Cassie’s Home Wine Kitchen to name just a few) and now this whole Phoenix metro area to explore (50-ish venues down, 50-ish to go…, and then, of course, repeats!). And in the end – it’s all about Steve!
Steve – if you’re reading this – Jenni and I can’t thank you enough and wish Jen, Evelyn and you all the best – cheers!