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Winner of free Old North restaurant space to promote local greens and neighborhood gardening

Good Life Growing operates 20 "hoop houses," which are a kind of greenhouse.
File photo | Provided | James Forbes
Good Life Growing operates 20 "hoop houses," which are a kind of greenhouse.

An urban farming nonprofit is the winner of a competition for a free restaurant space in St. Louis’ Old North area.

James Forbes and his partners at Good Life Growing will open Old North Provisions, a restaurant, grocery store and co-op at 2720 N. 14th St.

They’ll offer their own and other local produce on store shelves, a buffet line and take-out packages. Forbes said his operation will provide an alternative to neighboring Crown Candy Kitchen, known for its ice cream and hearty sandwiches.

“I love Crown Candy; don't get me wrong,” Forbes said. “But we can offer something else besides a BLT, a burger and a shake.”

Eat in, take out

Forbes and three co-founders — Matt Stoyanov, James Hillis and Robert Forbes — grow kale, tomatoes and other vegetables in 20 urban gardens in north St. Louis. They also grow food using methods that don’t rely on soil, such as hydroponic environments, which use only water.

Through Old North Provisions, the partners will offer a daily buffet  that includes comfort food minus some of the calories.

James Forbes holds up a Swiss chard leaf.
Credit File | Provided | James Forbes
James Forbes holds up a Swiss chard leaf.

“Like a healthier version of biscuits and gravy, a lot more baked and grilled items as opposed to deep-fried,” Forbes said.

They plan to charge from $6 to $9 for the buffet. They’ll portion out excess food into meals, seal them into vacuum packs, ready to microwave or boil, and offer them  for between $5 and $7.

“So many people want to try the food and enjoy the benefits of holistic eating,” Forbes said. “But they don't have the cooking equipment and haven’t been taught how to prepare it.”

The operation will also bring in guest chefs to prepare sit-down dinners.

“We want to draw in a lot of folks that don't live in and around the St. Louis city area,” Forbes said. “Maybe they’ll come out and try something if they see a chef they really like.

Coop is a win-win

Contestants for the restaurant space had to show how they would involve the local area. Old North Provisions will plans to encourage neighbors to grow their own food.

“Working with the population to show how they could do some stuff in their backyard … and then make the offer that, if you have it in abundance … we will buy it from you,” Forbes said.

“I think neighborhood engagement had much to do with the decision,” said Larry Perlmutter, communications and development manager for Rise Community Development, a contest sponsor.

The new eatery and grocery also will sell shares in a co-op, based on income. Members will pay only for the cost of the items.  That’s good for the area, Forbes said, and also for the business.

“It does give us a baseline of guaranteed revenue for overhead and operational costs, he said. “Anything that we can do to get people to come to keep coming in is a big benefit for us as well, just to have that traffic and volume that visual feel that we're busy. “

Old North Provisions also will offer an arcade with 1980s and 1990s games like Pac Man and Skee-Ball, along with beer and alcohol. They plan to stay open until 10 or 11 p.m. A soft opening is planned for this fall and an official launch for January.

Follow Nancy 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.