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Will Citygarden restaurant closing

In Out & About

3:40 pm on Sun, 09.25.11

Updated at 4:52 pm on Mon, 09.26.11

When dining in downtown St. Louis' Citygarden sculpture park you're more likely to hear "Would you like a wine list?" than "Do you want fries with that?" But that could change with the closing of Terrace View restaurant.

Photo by Ellen Silverman
Danny Meyer

Immediately following Tuesday's announcement that Terrace View will shut its doors at the end of the year, New York restaurateur Danny Meyer began getting telephone calls and emails. The messages to the the St. Louis native were all the same: Would he consider opening a Shake Shack in Citygarden?

Meyer's lucrative 13-and-counting Shake Shacks — offering little more than burgers, fries, shakes and concretes — are an homage to his growing up in the Gateway City, a marriage of Ted Drewes, Steak 'n Shake, and Fitz's Drive-In (the original hamburger joint in Richmond Heights that inspired the current Fitz's Rootbeer operation.)

"I think if you love where you came from as I do St. Louis, you always have a little thing in the back of your mind that says, 'Could I ever come home?' " Meyer said.

Would Burgers Beat Bruscetta?

If Meyer were to ever open a restaurant in St. Louis, the odds favor a Shake Shack over one of his fine dining establishments, he said. The Shacks are the only one of his restaurants to expand beyond New York City to other major East Coast cities and even Dubai and Kuwait City in the Middle East.

Photo by Cindy Betz
Shake Shack in New York City's Madison Square Park

As for Citygarden, Meyer has never been there. He did acknowledge that the success of Madison Square Garden location and other Shake Shacks that border parks might bode well for a Citygarden spot. But success is built on many factors, including the availability of the Shack's signature beef and the amount of foot traffic.

"I don't know enough about how many pedestrians go through there morning, noon and night," Meyer said. "One of the reasons Madison Square Park works so well is that unless it's pouring rain or freezing out, there's a line every single day, all day from 11 in the morning until 11 o'clock at night."

Volume is critical, agreed Terrace View owner Jim Fiala. Both hot and cold weather have kept people away from his restaurant because they see the park and the restaurant as a package deal.

In good weather, Terrace View's gourmet pizzettas, seared pork loin and Reuben eggs benedict pull in 120 to 130 people who spend an average of $15 each for lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch. Not bad, said Fiala, who also owns Acero, Liluma and The Crossing. But lunchtime fare like burgers or even barbecue might make more sense.

"A place like Pappy's is doing 1,000 people a day — they've got a wait outside the door," Fiala said. "[At Citygarden] you need somebody who can do $7 or $10 a person and do 500 to 1,000 people a day."

'sweet Spot'

Maggie Campbell, president of Partnership for Downtown St. Louis believes Shake Shack would be a good match for the Citygarden site.

"it would be a magnet, a great compliment to a public space," Campbell said. "It's a proven driver — it would be amazing."

Photo provided
Maggie Campbell

As further evidence, Campbell points to the food trucks that have seen recent success downtown.

"That area has consistently been supporting six to eight food trucks," Campbell said. "That shows you there is a demand — a strong demand — at least in the daytime, for affordable lunch options."

But Terrace View was designed for fine dining. According to Campbell, changing the fare to fast food would mean significantly altering the space. Any lunch establishment entrepreneur would have to negotiate renovations. "It's a business decision somebody has to make," Campbell said.

No matter what, the site will not remain vacant, Campbell said. She's had "multiple calls" about the site this past week, and hopes a new restaurant will move in this spring or summer.

"It's sitting in a sweet spot," Campbell said. "If someone can bring the right concept and do the deal it could be a very successful restaurant location."

Never Say Never

Citygarden is owned by the city of St. Louis. The nonprofit Gateway Foundation, which spent some $30 million on improvements, pays for all ongoing expenses except for water and electricity.

Photo from Wikipedia
The Terrace View Cafe fits into the flow of Citygarden.

Foundation spokesperson Paul Wagman had little to say other than that Gateway is sorry Terrace View didn't last.

"We'll certainly explore other operators but we haven't made any decision yet," Wagman said.

"I've learned never to say never," Meyer said about the chances of his opening a Shake Shack in Citygarden or any St. Louis location. But the recent flurry of interest in the Terrace View site intrigues him.

"With the number of people who have called me or emailed me about it this past week, if I were to come to St. Louis for any reason, I would absolutely want to at least see it," Meyer said.

Contact Beacon staff writer Nancy Fowler. An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Fitz's as Fritz's.

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