Meggan Sandusky Keeps the Fire Going at BEAST Craft BBQ

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Meggan Sandusky is co-owner of BEAST Craft BBQ. - STEPHEN KENNEDY
  • Stephen Kennedy
  • Meggan Sandusky is co-owner of BEAST Craft BBQ.

Meggan Sandusky can't help but laugh when she recalls the first time she talked to her now-husband, pitmaster David Sandusky.

"I cussed him out," Sandusky recalls. "We were both in this young adult church group, and they had soccer teams. Someone made the mistake of telling David it was semi-competitive, and at the first game we played against him, he had assembled a team of college players and an actual professional soccer player from Poland. When we walked out on the field, we could just hear them pinging balls against the wall. Here I was, thinking this was a way for us all to get to know each other, and he was out there on the field trying to crucify people."

In retrospect, Sandusky learned all that she needed to know about David during that game. A fierce competitor and perfectionist to the point of obsession, he's parlayed those personality traits into the acclaimed barbecue restaurants BEAST Craft BBQ (20 S. Belt West, Belleville, IL; 618-257-9000) and the newly-opened BEAST Butcher & Block (4156 Manchester Avenue, 314-944-6003).

However, if it wasn't for Sandusky, the world may have lived without the BEAST restaurants, or at least the barbecue.



"David knew he wanted to open his own place, but he wasn't sure exactly what he wanted to do," Sandusky explains. "Originally, we had looked at a place in Benton Park, but it wasn't the right fit. We found the place in Belleville that was a former diner, and he considered going with that, but then I found a smoker online for a good price. He'd always thought of doing barbecue, and finding the smoker really set the tone for everything."

Finding the smoker is just one of the many ways Sandusky has impacted the arc of the BEAST brand since she and her husband co-founded it in 2014. It's been an unexpected turn for a lifelong artist who went to school for media arts and animation. Though she dreamed of being an illustrator, Sandusky realized not long after she enrolled in college that making a career out of something she loved took the joy out of it for her.

After leaving college without finishing her degree, Sandusky returned home to southern Illinois, which is where she met David. After a brief courtship and engagement, the pair had a daughter, and Sandusky decided to quit her job in medical billing to focus on their family. It also freed her up to dive head-first into the development of BEAST Craft BBQ, which opened about four years after the pair got married. From designing the logo to taste-testing to marketing, Sandusky has served as the restaurant's brand architect, a role that she relishes. However, her favorite part of the gig is something less tangible.

"I really enjoy being a wife and my role as David's support system," Sandusky says. "I know it sounds cliche, and that it doesn't should like a large role, but I really like being his sounding board and coming up with ideas together."

She admits that those brainstorming and advice sessions are not always easy. In fact, there was a point in developing the new restaurant, BEAST Butcher & Block, when David was so grumpy with her for questioning one of his ideas that he didn't get over it for months.

"We were in the space with our designers and architects, and David was talking about how he wanted to do Korean barbecue, Brazilian barbecue and all these different barbecue concepts," Sandusky recalls. "I told him, 'People are going to come here for what you do. They want BEAST, so give them BEAST and have a little section of the restaurant where you can be as creative as you want.' That's how the Skullery came to be."

Sandusky loves her role with BEAST and the partnership she and David have, both inside and outside of the restaurants. Still, she often jokes about wanting to start a restaurant version of the Real Housewives franchise, focused on restaurant spouses, because of just how difficult it can be balancing the business with the personal.

"90 percent of what you talk about is shop," Sandusky says. "When we have free time and go out and do things, we still end up talking shop. We can't go on vacation and have a meal together without thinking, 'Hmm, how can we incorporate this into our restaurants?' Still, we love it. This is our life. Everything about it is us."

Sandusky took time away from the restaurants to share her thoughts on the St. Louis metro restaurant scene, her admiration for some of the strong women making waves in the city's dining community and why breakfast for dinner is always a good idea.

What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
Ha! I am the force behind all of David’s good ideas.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
I don’t have rituals. Routine is not something I have ever been good at. It takes a lot of effort to give my family the routine that they need. I live for the moment and love spontaneity.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
This is a question I tend to ponder often. I used to think flying or teleporting would be the ultimate superpower. As a mom and wife, I tend to lean more toward never needing sleep or maybe having the ability to duplicate myself.

What is the most positive thing in food, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
There seems to be a resurgence of simple, uncomplicated cuisine. These dishes contain very few, but really great, ingredients that are familiar and inspire diners to try their hand at creating something similar at home. I love seeing local restaurants with a small menu selection. It gives me the assurance that those few items will be really great, and it allows diners to be brave and try something new without being overwhelmed by a giant menu.

What is something missing in the local food, wine or cocktail scene that you’d like to see?
I would love to see a great breakfast-for-dinner place. I don’t mean a diner, either. Don’t get me wrong, I love going to a diner for breakfast at any hour. Just imagine going to Carmine's [Steak House] or Annie Gunn’s and getting an amazing steak with some perfectly cooked eggs. I would order that steak over the one that comes with a vegetable and potato any day.

Who is your St. Louis food crush?
Haha! David would not want me to say him, and I wouldn’t anyway. I guess it would have to be between Loryn Nalic [at Balkan Treat Box] and Katie Collier [at Katie's Pizza & Pasta Osteria]. I love what they do. It’s awesome to see strong women behind such great restaurants.

Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis food scene?
Big things are happening in the city, and new food celebrities are popping up all over. It can be hard to keep up with it all when you are focused on your own business. I really think that our very own Derek Graue is someone you need to keep an eye out for. He has his hands in much of the butchery and will be a an anchor when we open the Skullery. Great things to come from him.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
Coffee! Strong, a little bitter and the driving force behind your day. Lol!

If you weren’t working in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
I have had the opportunity to experience many different careers. I lean more toward the creative arts. I dropped out of college for media art and animation and have always been interested in pursuing that again.

Name an ingredient never allowed in your restaurant.
I would never want to deny anyone from experiencing something just because I don’t care for it. There is one item I really struggle with. I know this is probably blasphemous considering the nature of my restaurant, but I really dislike lamb. I try it every once in a while hoping I may change my mind. I want to like it.

What is your after-work hangout?
Hangout?! What’s that? My best friends are seven and one! I am very simple and I don’t really go out. I like being home with my family.

What’s your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
Every time I go to Chicago I have to go to Devil Dawgs on Sheffield. I absolutely love that place!

What would be your last meal on earth?
This is simple. My mom’s fried chicken, mashed potatoes with white gravy and peas. She never makes it anymore. Maybe after reading this she will.

We are always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at cheryl.baehr@riverfronttimes.com.

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