by Nancy Stiles
Eric Kelly opened Scape (48 Maryland Plaza; 314-361-7227) over six years ago in the Central West End. His last day was April 10. Kelly will be moving to Seattle to work with Restaurants Unlimited, a group that currently owns 49 restaurants.
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"My partners and I weren't necessarily philosophically aligned on everything," Kelly tells Gut Check. "I wanted to expand and grow the group, and the partnership. They weren't real excited about growing. So I chose to join forces with a colleague that I used to work with up in Chicago."
Chris Harter was group president of Levy Restaurants with Kelly years ago, and he's now president and CEO at Restaurants Unlimited. Kelly will be in charge of group operations, which means working out of the corporate office in Seattle.
"They're everywhere, between LA, Honolulu, San Francisco, Oregon, Seattle -- it's a $200 million a year group, and Chris wants to grow the group to a $400 million a year, and he's gonna need some help getting there."
It wasn't an easy decision, though. Kelly says he has spent years growing the team at Scape and its sister restaurant, Crepes Etc., with his partners, as well as developing relationships with loyal customers.
"It's been really rewarding, and the team we put in place is a world-class team. Everybody shares the same vision and passion and works really hard to deliver what Scape delivers. I've been blessed to have the opportunity to build hundreds of relationship with wonderful people in the St. Louis metropolitan area," Kelly says. He pauses, though, and admits that he can't even limit it to the metro area. He has people like Jackson and Kathleen Rich who drive up from Jackson and Rex and Sherry Rust who come all the way from Cape Girardeau to eat at Scape.
"So when you start developing those relationships with people, it's really tough to walk away from," he says.
Kelly is being replaced by his executive sous chef Joe Everett, whom he has worked with since 2002 at places like Fulton's Crab House in Orlando, Narcoossee's at the Grand Floridian and even in New York City, when the two headed up culinary operations at the U.S. Open.
"Culinarily, Joe has a more refined palate than I do," Kelly insists. "He's a great chef. He's a better culinarian than I am, so leaving him in St. Louis -- you guys are in great, great hands."