Tai Davis to launch Lineage, a modern and elevated exploration of soul food

One of the most exciting personalities in the St. Louis restaurant scene is embarking on a journey that he hopes will transform the way people think of soul food. Tai Davis—a talented chef, artist, model, and musician who refers to himself as the “Black Willy Wonka”—is getting ready to launch Lineage, a modern and elevated exploration of soul food that will begin as a series of pop-ups and is slated to ultimately result in a full-fledged restaurant in 2025.

Lineage’s first pop-up dinner will take place on Sunday, May 26, at Brennan’s Work & Leisure (3015 Locust), where Davis plans to pull out all the stops. Through six courses, beverage pairings, and commentary, Davis will tell the story of how Lineage allows diners to experience soul food through a unique lens and why he feels that the time has come for such a new way of thinking about soul food. Tickets are $145 per person (inclusive of paired cocktails or N/A mocktails, and gratuity), seatings are at 5:30 and 8 p.m. Make reservations here

“There was just this come-to-Jesus moment when thinking about what St. Louis needs,” says Davis. “The answer is the kind of establishment where diners can have the same fine-dining experience they would at some place like Niche or Esca—that sort of experiential dining experience that feels new and fresh, with soul food. No one is doing high-end soul food, and that’s where my heart is. It’s a purposeful mission: I want to open people’s eyes to it and have them see the possibilities of what it can be.”

The Concept

Lineage will start as a pop-up dinner series, beginning with the May 26 event and running every fourth Sunday until Davis finalizes the details on his yet-to-be-announced permanent space. Once that space is official, Davis hopes to hold pop-ups with more frequency, ramping up to one every other week, eventually leading up to him opening Lineage next year as a full-service restaurant with regular hours.

Pop-ups will be multi-course dinners, with drink pairings, and will take place at various locations across the city, all of which will be in development of Lineage’s identity as a fine-dining soul food concept. “What I want people to walk away with is thinking that they never knew soul food could taste this way,” says Davis. “If I can transform soul food into something elegant and beautifully plated, it’s transforming how you envision it. I want to open people’s eyes to the possibilities.”

The Food

Davis is clear that he loves and respects soul food as it is traditionally perceived and presented in restaurants and home kitchens. At the same time, though, he feels there is an opportunity to expand the cuisine with a fine-dining platform.

“I wanted to focus on the food I enjoy eating because it lifts my soul, and I’m finding purpose within that,” says Davis. “The story, the sense of purpose and the history behind it all lit the fire. I started thinking of my upbringing and thinking about how my mom didn’t have a lot of money, so we celebrated through food. I thought, Let’s highlight and celebrate that. I’m pulling out all the stops and techniques I’ve learned to make a memorable experience that is conducive to quality and respect, is purposeful and well-executed.”

The dishes offered at Davis’ first Lineage pop-up event will underscore that vision. Blue crab beignets will be accented with she-crab veloute, bowfin caviar, and creme fraiche. Another course will feature oxtails served over agnolotti and braised greens in a pot licka’ brodo that is enriched with mascarpone. Chicken confit, cornbread with strawberry hibiscus jam, pea soup, and magnolia blossom meringue round out the six-course feast. Wine and cocktails—both with and without alcohol—will be paired with each course.

Davis is being very intentional about sourcing and notes that he is committed to not only using as many local products as possible but also using Lineage’s platform to elevate Black producers and makers. “We will be supporting people of color across the board,” says Davis. “Our drink pairings will feature a bourbon from a Black-owned [distiller]. We are working with a Black woman–owned farmer who is raising these heritage hogs; we want to bring her to the forefront. We’re even supporting people of color in our sourcing of things like smallwares. We have a Black ceramicist we’ve commissioned to do our plates and other smallwares.”

The Backstory

A person of many talents, Davis has always been drawn to the arts, beginning with a passion for medical illustrations when he was in high school. Davis assumed he’d pursue that interest as a career path, but he instead went on to study musical performance in college while also doing modeling.

His first restaurant gig was at the Tavern of Fine Arts, a former wine bar, café, and arts space just north of Forest Park where he created ambitious dishes with only a convection oven, a hot plate, and a microwave. That experience ignited a passion for the culinary arts, and he eventually found himself at Element in Lafayette Square, where he got his first experience doing pastry. He later moved on to other restaurants–including The Chocolate Pig in the Cortex district–and eventually began doing his own work as a pastry chef, consultant, and artist, oftentimes weaving his talents together to create multi-sensory experiences for patrons.

Davis admits that he’s always been a person with a plan and has often taken on more things than any one person should handle. Over the past year and a half, though, he made the decision to step back, slow down, and assess what he wanted to do with his life. That time gave him both clarity and a sense of purpose, which led him to Lineage.

“I slowed down exponentially and have tons of clarity that’s helped me align with my mission and purpose,” says Davis. “I think people don’t appreciate soul food, because they don’t know what its lineage is. I want my people to have a good person out there who is repping for the culture and wants them to know where they come from and appreciate their food. There will be that story and sense of purpose with every dinner.”

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