James Beard Award semifinalist Ben Welch announces a new venture in The Grove

Acclaimed chef Ben Welch plans to open a dual-concept space in the former BEAST Butcher & Block location (4156-58 Manchester) in The Grove this September, after years of hosting pop-ups for his Southern-inspired eatery Lucy Quinn, which will operate alongside a spinoff diner, Little Lucy, as first reported by the St. Louis Business Journal.

Named for Welch’s maternal grandmother, whom he called Nana, the restaurants give the chef an opportunity to tell his food story—all the way from his family heritage in Mississippi to eating barbecue as a kid in St. Louis in the 1970s and ‘80s to earning a 2022 James Beard Award semifinalist nomination in the “Best Chef Midwest” category. Here’s what to expect.

The Backstory

Welch started hosting Lucy Quinn pop-ups with Southern-inspired menus six years ago. He was already known for Memphis-style, dry-rubbed barbecue, thanks to Big Baby Q, which he co-owned with his father, Bennie. He had planned to take the Lucy Quinn concept further, but other projects took precedence. He opened The Midwestern Meat and Drink in downtown St. Louis before becoming executive chef at Six Mile Bridge Beer in Maryland Heights, then helming the kitchen at Botanica in Wildwood.

Before circling back to Lucy Quinn, Welch took a couple of years off to do private events and travel the country. Welch already had a background with Southern cuisine, thanks to attending school in Charleston and working in the kitchen at Emeril Lagasse’s NOLA in New Orleans. But the recent trips were focused on his own family heritage.

He visited Marigold, Mississippi—the Delta hometown of Lucy Quinn’s grandmother—as well as Southern cities such as Memphis, Atlanta, and Bentonville, Arkansas. He also toured Chicago, Kansas City, and Charlotte, always in comparison mode. “I was trying to see if my stuff stands up,” he says, “and I feel pretty comfortable saying it does.”

Between the boosts to his culinary confidence from traveling and the James Beard Award nomination, he felt ready to tackle the challenge of doing Southern food his way. He patiently searched for the right location, secured funding, and laid the groundwork.

On May 23, Welch celebrated his 51st birthday. The date has a special meaning because it was Lucy Quinn’s birthday as well. “I was the oldest grandbaby, and I couldn’t do any wrong,” he says with a laugh. “I was spoiled.”

While his paternal grandmother had a more refined style from working in wealthy homes, Welch describes Lucy Quinn as “carrying a gun in her bra. She believed if you could kill it and cook it, you could eat it. She made bathtub wine. She loved to gamble,” he says. He remembers opening her deep freezer to find raccoons and opossums she was planning to cook. “From her,” he says. “I learned that food can be seasonal and fun.”

The Atmosphere

Welch plans to channel his Nana’s fun-loving side at the forthcoming restaurants. He has worked with MIN+ Architecture to create an atmosphere filled with Southern hospitality and a modern vibe.

The 6,000-foot building will be split into two parts. On the larger side, Lucy Quinn will serve a small and large plates format for 100 customers in the dining room.

On the side that was previously the meat market and scullery, Little Lucy will feature an open kitchen in a traditional diner format, with counter seating, tables, and booths for 45 to 50 guests. Welch describes the space as funky and hip, with a louder, more casual vibe. “It’ll be bumpin’,” he says.

“In both spaces, I will showcase my personal art collection from local artists,” he adds. The collection will include works from Cbabi Bayoc, Brock Seals, De’Joneiro Jones, and Anthony Evans, along with his brother, James Welch, who holds a master’s degree in art.

Welch’s playlist for the two restaurants will lean heavily on hip-hop and R&B from the 1990s and early 2000s. He’s planning to play tracks from Lee Fields, Parliament, Bobby Brown, Roberta Flack, Stevie Wonder, De La Soul, and Digable Planets—and he expects the music to resonate with the local clientele. “The Grove is the perfect place to have fun,” he says.

Although the two concepts will be Welch’s first restaurants in The Grove, he used to live just around the corner on Chouteau and has a deep affinity for the small businesses there. Welch and Powell Kalish of Hilliker Corporation looked at about 25 potential restaurant sites over a couple of years before ultimately choosing the former BEAST Butcher & Block space for its size, setup, and turnkey-ready status.

The Menu

Little Lucy’s menu will have a wide selection of sandwiches­—Southern-fried tripe and Nashville hot catfish are two that Welch mentioned—along with a vegan burger that he expects to be a runaway favorite. Other dishes will include peel-and-eat shrimp and crispy smoked turkey legs.

For Lucy Quinn’s menu, Welch plans to elevate his Southern influences into works of art in their own right: crawfish pie, smoked trout salad with crispy potatoes, and milk bread enriched with duck fat. Some will be familiar to longtime fans, including the collard greens served alongside the crispy pork belly, a carryover from Big Baby Q.

Although Welch is adamant that Lucy Quinn and Little Lucy will not be barbecue restaurants, he also admits it’s impossible to have a Southern menu without smoked meats, so he has retained one of BEAST’s smokers and plans to bring in one of his smokers from Big Baby Q’s as well.

For Saturday and Sunday brunch, he’s still working out a separate menu, but he promises a vibe where customers can unwind. The two restaurants will have similar cocktail menus, with classic and contemporary options, as well as bottled and canned beers. Welch says he applied for a liquor license months ago, in anticipation of a September opening date.

Welch adds that he’s missed being in restaurants during the past couple of years. “I look forward to sharing and teaching and shaking hands again,” he says. “It’s like inviting someone into your home—you want them to have fun and come back. I’m excited for St. Louis and beyond to taste what I’ve come up with.”

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