Courtesy Little Fox
A rendering of Little Fox's dining room as designed by SPACE Architecture + Design.
After more than a year of planning and almost five months of construction, Little Fox (2800 Shenandoah Avenue)
plans to open in the Fox Park neighborhood in late November.
Envisioned as a modern neighborhood restaurant by owners Mowgli and Craig Rivard, the dining experience will balance the best of fine dining in a more casual environment, the couple say. "It’s really all about comfort and being approachable but done really well," Craig explains.
"It’s simple food done well," Mowgli adds.
Getting to this point has been a long time coming for the Rivards, who moved from Brooklyn to St. Louis to open a restaurant in November 2017. The couple first met while cooking at farm-to-table restaurants Diner and Marlow & Sons in Williamsburg, two of the eateries in Brooklyn restaurateur Andrew Tarlow's empire. They later moved on to Clover Club, also in Brooklyn, where Craig was executive chef.
Although the Rivards loved the family they found in the Brooklyn restaurant scene, the couple's longtime goal was to move to St. Louis, Craig's hometown, and open a restaurant of their own. "We’ve always seen so much potential in St. Louis," Craig says. "We made the decision probably ten years ago that this was the idea we wanted to do."
For both Craig and Mowgli, it was key to find a neighborhood where they could put down roots — the couple live within walking distance of Little Fox — and carve out a new community here in St. Louis. "We just want to be a part of the neighborhood and add what we think is comfortable dining for people," Mowgli says. "Our number one criteria was to be a part of a community."
When developing specifics for Little Fox, the couple reflected back on their time in Brooklyn. While at Clover Club, which is owned by cocktail expert Julie Reiner and hospitality pro Susan Fedroff, the Rivards met mixologist Shannon Ponche, who's now developing Little Fox's cocktail list. Like Craig, Ponche is a St. Louis native, having worked with cocktail guru Ted Kilgore at Taste years ago before moving to New York. In general, The Rivards say that they gravitate toward drier, herbal-forward cocktails and those made with fortified wines like sherry and vermouth, so diners can expect to see those influences on the menu at Little Fox.
While Ponche will be heading up the initial cocktail program, Little Fox beverage director Kelly Nyikes will be overseeing the restaurant's wine program, which will exclusively focus on natural wines. Prior to joining the Little Fox team, Nyikes worked for One Off Hospitality Group in Chicago, owned by industry titans Donnie Madia and Paul Kahan. After moving back to St. Louis, Nyikes worked at James Beard award winner Gerard Craft's Sardella, where he paid special attention to offering natural wines.
"Once we carved out [a natural wine selection at Sardella] and put labels on it, you started to see a little more velocity — people knew what to expect and they were asking about it, which gave me a lot of hope for when we started talking about this project," Nyikes says. "There are really good producers sitting in that zero-additive, organically and bio-dynamically grown space who are also laser-sighted winemakers who know how to do that in a really clean, precise way."
Nyikes says he's planning to source natural wines from across the world, including familiar wine-growing regions such as France and California as well as reemerging regions in Eastern Europe, Czechoslovakia and Georgia.
"Georgia is the birthplace of wine; I think those will be really fun to put forward and to show people how wine used to be made in the ancient world," Nyikes says. "That will be a really interesting conversation to have. There’s also some really good producers producing in California who straddle that New World-Old World line in a really successful way, where you get fuller bodied, fuller textured, riper expressions done in this really 'let’s see how it happens way; let’s let that natural nuance come out.’"
Close to home, he's excited to feature Claverach Farm's pétillant naturel, or pét-nat, wines. "When I moved back to St. Louis, that was one of the most exciting wines for me, to see them put that out," Nyikes says.
With the bar program taking shape, Craig, the executive chef, is currently focused on R&D for the menu, while Mowgli, who will run front-of-house operations as general manager, is working closely with SPACE Architecture + Design during the final steps of the building remodel.
"I had a ton of fun with the design; there was a lot of brick there, and then we’ve brought in a lot of lighter elements — light wood, tile," Mowgli says. "There’s a lot of texture and light colors when you come in. I think it’s somewhere between a Brooklyn-LA design a little bit. Instead of a lot of artwork, it’s the wood elements that are going in, and I’m so excited about that. The lead architect, Jay Reeves, lives in Fox Park, so that was an added bonus of the investment that he has in it."
In the kitchen, Craig is excited to firm up the menu, which he describes as New American with influences from the couple's time in Brooklyn and Europe and inspired by the seasons. To that end, he's been in conversation with local farmers including Crystal and Eric Stevens of Flourish and David Bohlen of Bohlen Family Farms.
"A lot of our larger plates will be staples, and we’ll change up the sides with the seasons," Craig says. "We’re looking at things like a bone-in pork Milanese and whole grilled trout. Ultimately we’re trying to be as flexible with the menu as possible, just giving people multiple ways to navigate: If you want to come in, have a small plate and a glass of wine on your way home from work, you can do that; if you want to come in with a group of friends and share a bunch of smaller plates, you can do that. If you want to have a more traditional appetizer and entree, we’re set up for that as well."
To start, Little Fox will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 3 to 10 p.m., including a social hour with food and drink specials offered Tuesday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. Eventually, the Rivards plan to expand into weekday breakfast and lunch as well as brunch on weekends. The couple hope to add brunch service in early 2020 and continue expanding their hours from there.
"We hope to get into an all-day concept with espresso and pastries in the morning, light lunch service with takeaway sandwiches during the day, dinner service and then brunch service on Saturday and Sunday," Craig says.
In the meantime, the couple are excited to host special dinner services focused around specific dishes, ingredients or themes this winter. "The first one we’d probably execute is a cassoulet dinner," Craig says. "Some of those may morph into industry dinners to say thank you to everyone doing great things in the industry here."
When the restaurant opens next month, it will feature 54 seats in the dining room plus an additional 11 at the bar and around 34 more on the outdoor patio (although that may not open until spring, weather permitting). The newly redesigned space will feature a separate dining room for private events and special dinners, which can host eight to 26 diners.
To start, the Rivards say Little Fox will allow reservations for about half of its dining room, with the remaining seats available for walk-in diners. "It’s important being a neighborhood restaurant that we allow for that," Craig says. "Nothing is more frustrating than somebody telling you that you have to make a reservation 30 or 45 days out."
With an aim to become Fox Park's favorite neighborhood eatery, that flexibility for walk-in guests is only one element of Little Fox that the Rivards are excited to share.
"Every element has an effect on your experience, so we tried to think through every possible thing," Mowgli says. "We think that when you come and eat here, between the wine, the design, the food and the music, it will make sense once you have the whole experience."
Keep updated on Little Fox's progress, including its grand opening announcement, by signing up for notices on its website
. More as we learn it.
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