Apronomics: William Roth & Neill Costello
Few professions are as demanding or unpredictable as running a restaurant. Long hours, busy kitchens and the changing tastes of the dining public all can take their toll. So it’s an accomplishment when a restaurateur is able to keep the doors open for a decade or more, says William Roth, who operates the West End Grill & Pub with Neill Costello.
Roth says their 12-year-old restaurant on North Boyle Avenue went through some recent ups and downs, and there were plans earlier this year to transfer it to new owners. But that deal hit the skids, and it seemed like putting the pub on the market was the only option. “We even held a ‘farewell week’ and were beginning to disassemble things,” says Roth, founder of St. Louis Actors’ Studio and The Gaslight Theater next door, among other arts endeavors.
But when a group of regular diners heard of the plan, they banded together to rescue the restaurant. “Two neighbors asked if they could meet with us to talk about pooling their money and saving it,” Roth says. “Later, the group grew to four people, and eventually several more came in. They really wanted us to stick around.” He notes that the pub’s issues were not major, mostly the normal vicissitudes of the restaurant industry. “With the new group in place, we realized that if we could boost traffic early in the week, we’d be back on solid footing,” Roth says.
The new stakeholders wanted to keep the West End Grill experience mostly intact but with a few updates, so the menu underwent a bit of a refresh, and the restaurant interior got some new photos, paint and upholstery. New staff members joined the team as well. “I own the building, so even though we had planned to sell the restaurant, I wasn’t actually going anywhere,” Roth notes. “Now, Neill and I are the only ones left of the original ownership.” He adds that the new co-owners often come in to offer ideas and suggestions. And there are regular staff meetings to ensure the front and back of the house are communicating well.
Not surprisingly, favorites like Green Curry Mussels have stayed on the menu. “Our regulars think they’re the best in St. Louis,” Roth says. “People also love our Braunschweiger Sandwich, which you can’t get anywhere else in town. There is Sunday brunch with favorites like Eggs Benedict, and we still have our Thursday raw oyster nights, which always sell out. We are not really chef-centric; we just offer good, progressive pub fare with great specials each day.” He says that the restaurant is committed to consistency, making sure each dish looks and tastes like it should every time.
Other menu staples include Corkscrew Calamari and Roasted Seasonal Hummus appetizers; small plates such as Shrimp & Grits; a selection of burgers and sandwiches; and entrees like Fish & Chips, Brown Sugar Pork Chops and Vegan Stir-Fry. With the theater next door, patrons don’t have to walk far for dinner and a show, and live music and trivia nights often are on tap at the pub. “We’ve always had an art and culture bent,” Roth explains. “We love promoting actors, musicians and other creative people. We know that something interesting needs to happen here each day in order to bring customers back.”
So how do Roth and Costello feel about the major vote of confidence they received from their clientele? “At its best, a restaurant should be a pillar of the community,” Roth notes. “When diners say your restaurant is such an integral part of the neighborhood that they can’t imagine it without you, that’s pretty great.”
green curry mussels
2 lb. fresh Prince Edward Island mussels, cleaned and debearded
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
1 c white wine
1 T green curry paste
2 T minced garlic
2 T minced ginger
½ c minced cilantro
1 t minced jalapeño
1 T soy sauce
½ c julienned red onion
3 T olive oil
1 T lime juice
In a large pot over high flame, heat the oil and add garlic, ginger and jalapenos. Sautee onions until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add curry paste and toast until aromatic, being careful not to let it burn. Add wine, coconut milk, soy sauce, lime juice and cilantro, and bring to a boil. Add mussels and cover until they open, 3-5 minutes. Discard any unopened mussels. Serve in large bowl with sliced baguette for dipping.
Photos: Bill Barrett