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STL chef Gerard Craft savors James Beard Award as expansion plans move forward

Gerard Craft throws a pizza crust at Pastaria
Greg Rannells
Gerard Craft throws a pizza crust at Pastaria

Local restaurateur Gerard Craft has long been a bridesmaid in the pursuit of a coveted James Beard Award.Now he’s the bride. After six years as a nominee, Craft won the "Best Chef: Midwest" award in a Monday night gala in Chicago.

The honor comes as Craft, 35, and his restaurant company are already eyeing expanding here in St. Louis and beyond. With four local eateries under his belt, a fifth in the works, and plans to debut several out-of-town establishments, the award is just the cherry on top.

“Hopefully, it makes our transition that much easier,” Craft said.

Trending: fast-casual

Craft’s group opened its first restaurant, called Niche, in 2005 in Benton Park; it later moved to Clayton. Now it owns three others: Brasserie and Taste in the Central West End and Pastaria in Clayton. The team has planned for some time to locate additional Pastarias in other cities. The first one should open within the year.

Gerard Craft at Niche
Credit Greg Rannells
Gerard Craft at Niche

Craft was coy when asked to name where he might place an out-of-town Pastaria. But he’s aiming for easy access.

“Not far. I want to be able to drive there,” Craft said.

Craft’s next local project is Porano. It will open late this summer in the Mercantile Exchange building downtown. Craft said Porano will serve fresh food that’s ready in minutes, with entrees all under $10.

He said the concept is a trend he’s noticed in the United States as well as Italy. It’s a good fit for today’s busy professionals on a budget. 

“We all have less time. Less time, less money but now our expectations are way higher,” Craft said. “People are demanding good, fresh food and there’s really a lack of it.”

People looking for alternatives to traditional fast food include his own family.

Gerard Craft
Credit Greg Rannells
Gerard Craft

“I’m a working chef, and as silly as it sounds, I don’t get to cook at home very often, so [we go out for] fast casual,” Craft said, using a term that’s beginning to take hold. “I think there’s a huge hole that needs to be filled.”

More restaurants means less time Craft can spend in a hands-on way. But he’s not worried. Craft said he’s built a great team to help him run an ever-expanding number of dining establishments.

“There are so many people working to make it happen that are super-talented and super-driven and super-innovative,” Craft said.

He credits his team for the James Beard Award. And he said he hopes it not only brings more diners to his restaurants, but to others in St. Louis.

“Even at first, if it’s just to check us out, then you definitely have to go to Sidney Street Café and Peacemaker,” Craft said. “And you definitely have to go to Farmhaus and you definitely have to go to the Libertine and Planter’s House, all of these amazing places.”

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.