Many impressive restaurants have opened in the past year or so. Several succeeded, many did not. Juniper (360 North Boyle Avenue; 314-329-7696) is one of the lucky ones. Chef and owner John Perkins turned his restless pop-up into an acclaimed restaurant that celebrates the best of Southern cuisine. We asked Perkins to look back on his inaugural year and see what he's thinking for the future of Juniper.
"I think it'd be hard to say this didn't surpass what I was anticipating, but I am, by nature, pretty restless and never really satisfied," Perkins laughs. "So as soon as it started going well, I was like, 'OK, I guess this is what's going to happen; we just need to keep doing better.' So it definitely surpassed my expectations. I think at this point, my expectations have been raised, and I want to keep pushing."
In the past few months, Juniper has expanded its hours to add Monday and Tuesday service, added an experimental "Monday Meat Three" dinner and is launching a retail component this fall. Besides that, it's just about constantly improving.
"We're getting back to the focus of what we're trying to do here originally, to explore the variety of Southern food out there, [and] also exploring some Missouri food in there as well," he says. "I grew up on a farm down in the Ozarks, and Missouri isn't really considered by a lot of Southerners as the South, but a lot of the stuff that I grew up with down on the farm was definitely Southern food."
Perkins says he's always thinking about short-term and long-term goals for Juniper: what it'll be doing in the new year, how to handle the natural highs and lows of business, what to do when the lease is up, whether he'll ever expand.
"It's just about making sure we're getting better and better and not assuming anything and not thinking we've reached anything -- being aggressive about getting better at our jobs is kind of what's up," Perkins says. "I feel very blessed by the support that we've gotten in this past year. It's been pretty amazing. Probably more than anything, I just wanna let people know we're going to continue to get better."
Gut Check is always hungry for tips and feedback. E-mail the author at Nancy.Stiles@RiverfrontTimes.com.
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