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Want to open a restaurant but strapped for cash? Lucky contest winner will get free rent and more

A St. Louis contest is offering an unusual prize: a nearly fully-equipped restaurant.

Three local organizations are holding a competition in which the winner gets two years of free rent at a restaurant space catty-cornered from Crown Candy Kitchen, on St. Louis Avenue in the Old North area. The prize is a nearly finished 4,464-square-foot space equipped with walk-in freezers, food-prep areas, a ventilation system and even the kitchen sink. The package is worth up to $100,000.

Three organizations are sponsoring the Fantasy Food Fare Business Competition: a nonprofit revitalization group called Rise; the philanthropic arm of Equifax, Inc.; and the University of Missouri Extension’s Small Business Technology and Development Center.

Rise executive director Stephen Acree said they’re looking for a casual place that’s focused on the lunch crowd, with a side of catering.

“That would be a good combination for establishing a restaurant operation [with] the additional income of a catering operation, particularly with some of the things that are moving into the area,” Acree said.

Acree said the restaurant should get a big boost from the new $1.75 billion National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency coming to north St. Louis. NGA construction will begin in 2018, bringing in a wave of workers looking for lunch spots.

Contest sponsors also area residents in mind as they envision a neighborhood-friendly restaurant.

“A business that is going to be looking to employ from the neighborhood,” Acree said.

‘Everything you do is one more step’

J.J. Forry and his mother, Ann Forry, live in Kirksville. J.J. Forry has lived in St. Louis and plans to move back.
Credit Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio
J.J. Forry and his mother, Ann Forry, live in Kirksville. He has lived in St. Louis and plans to move back.

J.J. Forry of Kirksville loves the idea of the restaurant employing local residents.

“That sounds good because I need a job,” Forry said.

Forry, who’s moving back to St. Louis soon, has a culinary arts degree. He thinks another restaurant would bode well for the area. But his mother Ann Forry, isn’t so sure.

“I don’t know if they should open a lunch place because it will interfere with Crown Candy," said Ann Forry during a visit to the city. "But they sure could use a dinner place down here.”

The Forrys are regulars at Crown Candy. Ann Forry always orders her favorites: “Chicken salad, chocolate shake — and today, we split a hot-fudge sundae,” she said.

Stephen Acree hopes a new restaurant will bring in more people like the Forrys as well as others who live nearby. He also thinks the project will keep money in the area and eventually lead to more businesses, and maybe a grocery store.

“Everything you do is one more step toward someone saying, ‘Hey, there’s actually something going on there,’” Acree said.

The first step in the competition is a series of informational sessions set to begin next month, for people who are interested in the competition. After that, contestants can submit their business plans online. The group will choose a winner by the end of the year, and hopes the restaurant will open this spring.

Rise already has heard from restaurateurs and also from people offering to donate items. One company will provide an iPad-based ordering and payment system. Another will create a restaurant website. Firecracker Press of Crown Square and other companies will furnish marketing materials.

“There’s been a lot of interest,” Acree said.

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.