Steve Ewing is a familiar face in the local music scene. He first made a name for himself as the frontman for the popular rock/funk/ska/reggae/you name it act the Urge, a post he held from the '80s until the band's breakup in 2001. After spending some time in Los Angeles, Ewing moved back to St. Louis and reestablished himself as a fixture on the music scene. He now plays around 200 shows a year, most of them in town, with either his full band or as an acoustic duo with guitarist Adam Hansbrough. But despite already being ubiquitous in St. Louis, Ewing is enhancing his local celebrity with his latest venture: Steve's Hometown Hot Dogs & Sausages. Taking inspiration from a post-concert craving, Ewing started an outdoor hot-dog stand, located at East Grand Avenue and Second Street in north city. (They also do catering for large events and sold hot dogs at this year's Taste of St. Louis.) Steve's Hometown Hot Dogs just finished its second operating season; they stay open from March until the end of October each year. For the entire interview, head to http://tinyurl.com/ewinghotdogs.
Bob McMahon: Do you often get recognized, like, "Hey, it's that guy from the Urge"?
Steve Ewing: Yeah, totally. Especially down by Procter & Gamble, I'd say probably most of my customers know who I am. It helps with the business. We sell CDs out there, so it works out great.
Do you do anything else with your music to promote this business? Like at the end of the show do you say, "Come down and buy a hot dog from me!"
I'll tell you what, that's one of the reasons why I really wanted to do Taste of St. Louis this year, to really present it on a larger scale, like, "Hey, not only am I doing music, you guys know that, but I also have another business." And it worked out great. I was able to promote the business by doing a big event like that. In the future, I will be doing more events, more bigger events and working on possibly running the business at some regular installations, places like Home Depot, things like that. So we'll have multiple satellites, we'll have multiple food carts going at one time.
Have you ever considered writing a jingle for your cart?
[Laughs] You know, when we get into television advertising, I would imagine I'll have to. Without a doubt. The cool thing about St. Louis is there's so many great ways to market at the street level. The community is kind of small in a sense, and I've been a public figure in the community for so many years. So I don't have to go crazy with television advertising. I can really do a lot of word of mouth and things like that. For food, for what I'm doing it works out great that way. I get a lot of repeat customers.
One thing I should ask, because you sell hot dogs: Aren't you — or weren't you at one point — a vegetarian?
I still am, and we do veggie items. We have a vegetarian meatball sandwich, and we also have veggie burgers.
So you don't have any moral qualms with selling something you personally wouldn't eat?
No, I don't have any problems with that at all. That's not the reason I'm a vegetarian. I love meat, I just chose not to eat it because it got hard for me on the road, touring and stuff, and it was kind of easier for me to discipline myself that way and keep myself healthier while I was on tour. And I just kind of kept going with the lifestyle. But occasionally I'll still eat a few things here and there. I'm not a strict vegetarian.
— Bob McMahon
Since Country Grammar debuted a decade ago, original St. Lunatics members Torhi "Murphy Lee" Harper and brother Robert "Kyjuan" Cleveland have had a lot on their proverbial plates. In addition to their participation in the upcoming St. Lunatics album, City Free, the platinum-selling artists are currently serving up a cooking show called Good 4 U, which showcases healthy alternatives to a traditional diet. Although Kyjuan and Murphy Lee are both vegans, Murph asserts that the show isn't hell-bent on converting carnivores. "It's not about convincing people to be vegetarian," he explains. "It's about showing how to maintain a healthy life." The premiere episode (which can be viewed on stltv.net) includes a cooking segment at south city's SweetArt, a shopping trip to Whole Foods Market and street interviews that test people's knowledge of nutrition. Murphy Lee recently took time out of a recording session to share his thoughts on the show and some of his other projects.
Calvin Cox: Before the show aired, you'd actually been advocating for healthy eating for years, right?
Murphy Lee: Definitely. I've been a vegetarian for twelve years now and a vegan for three.
What made you decide to change your lifestyle in that way?
It basically came from a lot of reading. Certain music led me to certain books, and the books led me to eating right, which is the key to a good life. If you don't put good gas in the tank, that thing's gonna putt-putt!
Good 4 U shares its name with the vegetarian restaurant that you opened up here in town. What was your favorite meal there?
I like the veggie Philly. It's a Philly cheesesteak made with mock meat, but the seasoning and everything else is the same [as a regular Philly]. It's so fire.
What was your experience like in the restaurant business?
I'm not done with it — we're in reconstruction right now. But I've learned a lot from watching how other people ran their business. It was kind of hard for me, because when you open a business you've got to be there. I still have to rap, so I couldn't always be there full-time. But we still do catering, and we'll be reopening bigger and better.
In your opinion, what's wrong with the average person's diet?
We're just eating wrong. Too much cholesterol and sodium — you know, the same things the doctor tells you. There's a crazy amount of people dying from cancer and heart disease, and I think the solution starts with eating right.
What's the hardest part of getting people to reevaluate their diets?
Nobody wants to feel guilty. You can't tell people that they're doing wrong, but if you show them, then some will follow. There's a natural effect where people watch what they eat around me. I don't force [my eating habits] on anybody, but someone else always brings it up, like, "Murph don't eat that." Now I've got you talking about it. Next time you might take it upon yourself to eat better.
You don't think taste is an issue?
Nah — see, that's the biggest misconception about vegetarianism. The only thing you're really missing is the texture, because the taste comes from the seasoning. If you take a plain piece of chicken by itself, no seasoning, no breading, nothing — it just tastes like flesh. That's why some people's chicken is better than others: It's the spices and herbs. People think you have to lose something. You don't, you just have to replace it.
What about the cost of eating healthier?
I'd say it costs more to eat out as a vegan but not to cook at home. You're still buying your vegetables and sides, but instead of buying meat, you just buy the mock meat. Turkey, bacon, steak — whatever you want, I can replace it.
How has the response been to the show so far?
It's been good — shouts out to the St. Louis health department and STL TV. We could only put out so much information in 30 minutes, so wait until you see the next one!
What are your long-term plans for the show?
Right now, we're just getting the word out. When we've got more of a buzz, we'll be shopping it around to bigger networks. We've already shot the second episode, and we're shooting more this month. We're also putting out a cookbook, so be looking for that. We're trying to make food fun again — so you don't have to beg your kids to eat it.
— Calvin Cox