Helen Beshel tames the barbecue beast .... or at least wrangles BEAST Craft BBQ's David Sandusky.
Helen Beshel can't help but laugh when she recalls the rocky start she got off to with David Sandusky, who is now her dear friend and boss at BEAST Craft BBQ (20 South Belt West, Belleville, Illinois; 618-257-9000)
"I thought he was the biggest douche," Beshel recalls. "But only because we had people who weren't being held accountable for things at the smokehouse we worked at. Dave came in and asked me if we had a cleaning list and then asked me why a table was filthy. He told me, 'You know why people don't clean? Because you're managing them.' At first, I thought it was so rude, but then I realized, 'Holy crap, I am the problem, and I have to fix it.' It was a real breaking point for me that I will never forget."
And at that moment, she knew she wanted to work with Sandusky — a realization that has led her to grow with BEAST from head line cook all the way to director of operations over a growing company that will soon include two locations.
Beshel traces her passion for the restaurant business much further than that, though. In high school, she discovered that she loved to cook and, after graduation, enrolled in culinary school to pursue her dream of becoming a chef. But she soon realized it was the wrong path.
"I went to culinary school because I wanted to expand my knowledge, but once I got there, I knew it wasn't for me," Beshel says. "I just wasn't that good at it, and because of that, I didn't give it my all."
Still, Beshel knew she loved the restaurant business. She'd realized that on her very first day as a sixteen-year-old newbie at Little Caesars.
"They are corporate, so everything was done in the exact same way; if you went to a new store it was easy because the flow and everything was the same," Beshel says. "I loved that. There were no grey areas and everyone had a clear vision of expectations so you didn't have to manage on the fly. I loved working on schedules and doing the closing stuff because it was putting everything together. They wanted to make me a manager, but I wasn't old enough."
Still, Beshel applied what she'd learned at Little Caesars during her culinary school internship at Bully's Smokehouse, finding that she loved the business side of the restaurant business much more than cooking. That's where she first met David Sandusky. And as she worked her way up from line cook to general manager, she developed a passion for creating policies and procedures, holding people accountable, calculating food costs and budgeting.
"I love food and I love to eat, but I'm not the greatest cook," Beshel explains. "I'm not afraid to admit it. I love the customers and the fast pace of a restaurant, but it's the business side that drives me."
And while Beshel and Sandusky had a rough first day, they quickly became good friends and co-workers with mutual respect. When Sandusky left the smokehouse to open BEAST with his wife, Meggan, he wanted Beshel to come with him, but she felt like she wasn't ready. He persisted.
"He told me that he was going to call me every three months and ask me to work for him," Beshel recalls. "I kept telling him no, but after a year, I finally said yes."
Beshel joined the BEAST team as head line cook, then worked her way up to executive chef, operations manager, assistant general manager and general manager. When the Sanduskys announced that they would be opening a massive operation in the Grove
, Beshel took on an even bigger role as director of operations over the entire company. As she explains it, she will be responsible for the numbers side of the business, keeping up employee morale, branding and networking, budgeting and menu development — everything she loves about the business without having to cook on the line.
"I have such great visions for the company and am super excited to see where we can go with it," Beshel says. "And hopefully for a very long time."
Beshel took a break from the restaurant to share her thoughts on the metro area's restaurant scene, what it's like to spend the day wrangling Sandusky and why she believes St. Louis is a world-class restaurant city.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
I was sorted into the Gryffindor House!
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
I make sure Dave is following policies and procedures.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
I would love to clone myself.
What is the most positive thing in food, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
St. Louis is home to the best restaurant network outside of New York City. As a group, they can compete with anyone, which is why I think the level of camaraderie here is so fantastic. The resulting drive to put the St. Louis restaurant scene on the map has created a bond that had taken St. Louis favorites to the next level and introduced “new area” St. Louis traditions in the process. I’m lucky to be a part of it. The landscape has changed, and everyone is watching. The last year has proven that we will win more together than apart.
What is something missing in the local food, wine or cocktail scene that you’d like to see?
I would love to see more female chefs and restaurateurs take their place in our industry. Girl power!
Who is your St. Louis food crush?
Qui Tran (don’t tell David).
Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene?
Loryn Nalic of Balkan Treat Box.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
If you weren’t working in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
Jeffree Star’s personal assistant.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your restaurant.
What is your after-work hangout?
At David and Meggan’s house while my husband does the laundry. Just kidding! At home with my husband and daughter.
What’s your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
Raw chocolate chip cookie dough.
What would be your last meal on earth?
A “Volcano Burrito” with a Baja Blast. Don’t forget the mild sauce.
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