There’s a good chance you know Steve Ewing for his music. He is the frontman of The Urge, and he’s also hit the stage solo and with other bands. But it’s equally likely you know him for his culinary pursuits. For more than a decade, he’s been balancing his time performing with his restaurant, Steve’s Hot Dogs.
While Ewing always had an interest in food, he never imagined he would be a restaurateur when he was younger. The inspiration for Steve’s Hot Dogs came from his experiences touring. He realized there was a market for great food before and after live events like concerts. “When touring and performing slowed down, I kicked around the idea of starting a food cart to learn about the commercial side of things,” he says. “Hot dogs were the perfect fit. They’re a great street food, and I’d encountered so many hot dog carts around the country. I thought that it was something I could start with.”
In 2008, Ewing launched his first hot dog stand. After a year and a half of success, it became obvious that a brick-and-mortar location was a viable option. The first restaurant opened in 2011 on The Hill, and it was followed by a second in Tower Grove East in 2015, which was created in partnership with Tick Tock Tavern. With success, Ewing also learned about the challenges that come with operating a restaurant. In 2019, The Hill location closed its doors, and the Tower Grove East location prepared to close as well at the beginning of February 2020. “Just the idea of closing after 11 years was extremely stressful,” he notes.
Thankfully, Danni and Marcus Eickenhorst stepped in to help save Steve’s Hot Dogs. The Eickenhorsts previously had worked with Ewing as consultants, and after witnessing the outpouring of community support for the restaurant when it announced its closing, they were inspired to offer an investment and take on the role of managing partners. “It felt revitalizing to have the Eickenhorsts say they wanted to help resuscitate the business,” Ewing says. “Working with them in the past was a great success, and I was confident with them coming on as partners.” On Feb. 26, less than a month after what was meant to be its final service, Steve’s Hot Dogs was back in business.
Shortly after reopening, the restaurant—and all St. Louis eateries—were faced with an unthinkable challenge: COVID-19. The pandemic put a lot of things on hold, including any performances Ewing had planned for the year. “We couldn’t in good conscience put on live shows, so I was able to focus on strengthening the restaurant,” he says. Recognizing the serious issue of food insecurity in the community, he launched #FeedThePeople, a giveback program providing meals to first responders and people in need. “When the pandemic hit, we realized there would be a demand for food, and since last April, we’ve been able to get out thousands of meals,” he explains. “We’re just scratching the surface of the problem, but I would love to expand the program.”
Ewing says the St. Louis restaurant community came together during the pandemic. He had meetings with other owners to discuss issues as they arose and what solutions had been working. Steve’s Hot Dogs also is known for its collaborations with other local eateries like The Shaved Duck, Adam’s Smokehouse and more. “I love doing these collabs because we need to help and support each other,” he says. “Even though we’re competing in a sense, we all help each other out.”
Even with the difficulties of the pandemic, Steve’s Hot Dogs has been thriving. Later this summer, the restaurant is moving down the street to take over the former location of Mangia Italiano. “It’s a well-known spot in Tower Grove, and people have a lot of cool memories about it,” Ewing says. “There’s a killer bar that’s been there for more than a decade. We’re excited to revitalize it and bring back that good energy South Grand is known for.” Along with allowing the restaurant to introduce a new cocktail menu featuring local spirits and beer, the new space offers a much-needed larger dining room and kitchen.
Ewing is grateful for the support he’s received from the St. Louis community and is proud to continue to be part of Tower Grove South. “The culture and food around South Grand is so great, and the neighborhood is really tight, so you get to know everyone,” he says. “One of the unique things about St. Louis is all of the little neighborhoods with their own unique feel. It’s nice to be a part of that and represent my own little area.”
Photo: Bill Barrett