Over the years I have experienced patrons coming in for the first time and telling me about their best friend, neighbor, favorite cousin Fred or masseuse who convinced them that they MUST try their favorite Persian restaurant. But “What is Persian? You mean Parisian?” and “What is a Kabob and does it come on a stick?” are my favorite newbie questions.
Although it is difficult for any restaurant to attract new customers, I have found that St. Louisians are a unique breed of restaurant goers. I remember a conversation with a patron in the 90’s at our second location in the Delmar loop. She told me she lived close by but had never tried our establishment before. After I gave in and asked her why, she gave the most interesting answer that I’d ever heard, an answer that should puzzle even the most intuitive Anthropologist. She responded “my general rule is to wait for a restaurant to survive its first two years before I ever give it a try”. While trying my best to keep a grin on my face I wondered perhaps if that was why so many restaurants go out of business in their first year.
But I quickly learned the habits of local St. Louisians, since transformed into St. Louis foodies, who were partial to their local watering hole and wary of a bad meal. I uncovered the key to woo them outside of their comfort zone was not through promotions or deals but through their BFF. Strong armed by their closest advisors, family and friends even the most finicky St. Louisian could be convinced to try a savory tongue of beef.
And today, I witnessed this phenomenon as alive and active as it was a decade ago. My first patron of the day, an 8 year old child who had conned his grandparents into trying Persian for the first time, raved about the food and boasted that he had already eaten at Café Natasha four times this year. However I watched as the grandfather, perhaps not fully convinced by the enthusiasm of the child, approached a neighboring table eating the steak kabob to ask for recommendations. She laughed compassionately and told him to close his eyes and point. “I’ve been eating here for over 13 years and I have never had a bad meal.” Those few words seemed to be enough assurance for the family to comfortably navigate through the menu and even try an herbal dish named “Kookoo”.
If there was ever a time to thank neighbors, cousins, barbers or our local foodie magazine for introducing us to experiences we would never have the guts to try.
Cheers to food!