A popular neighborhood restaurant is getting a second life thanks to new owners. Benton Park Cafe (2901 Salena Street), the 15-year-old South St. Louis breakfast and lunch spot, was purchased by local entrepreneurs Elicia Eskew and Gavin Haslett, two longtime customers of the restaurant who look forward to continuing its legacy. Although no firm opening date has been set, the business partners hope to reopen the restaurant sometime next winter, hopefully no later than January.
“It’s always been a place that I loved,” Haslett says. “I think it’s a great little restaurant and a great location, and it was always a nice place to go for food. I really liked it, and when it closed [in April] for the renovation, I was like ‘OK, let’s see what happens’, but over time I kept telling myself that it wasn’t reopening. My business partner and I happened to be looking to invest some money in local small businesses, so we reached out to the previous owner. It fit perfectly with what my partner and I wanted to do, and it all fell into place.”
According to Haslett, former Benton Park Cafe owner and co-founder Jessica Lenzen had every intention of reopening the restaurant after closing it for renovations last April. However, as she got further and further into the process – and moved away from the day-to-day routine of running a restaurant – she realized she was ready to hand the business over to someone. another. Eskew and Haslett seemed like the right people for the job, not only because of their business acumen, but also because of their genuine affection for the place. After a brief period of negotiation, the three finalized their deal about two months ago, with Lenzen agreeing to help the new owners through the transition to ensure the spirit of the place lives on.
Haslett couldn’t be happier to have Lenzen’s backing.
“We want to bring back the same identity the place had before it closed,” Haslett said. “We liked what they were doing before so much, so why change it? It’s a success, so we want to keep it that way.”
Along these lines, Haslett points out that he and Eskew have no plans for major changes to the Benton Park Cafe. The renovations, which began under Lenzen, are mostly behind-the-scenes infrastructure changes that customers won’t necessarily notice. Up front, guests can expect a fresh coat of paint and new floors, but the overall vibe of the place will remain unchanged. Haslett specifically mentions how much he has always loved the works of local artists displayed on the walls of the restaurant and his commitment to maintaining that.
When it comes to food, longtime fans of the Benton Park Cafe can rest assured that Eskew and Frantzen plan to reopen with essentially the same menu that was served during Lenzen’s tenure. While they might add a new dish or remove an item that didn’t sell well, customers can expect the same food they’ve come to love over the years. This includes Park Avenue Coffee products, which Haslett says were a staple of his many cafe meals.
Another important item that will remain at the restaurant is the photo of the late John Caton, who co-founded Benton Park Cafe with Lenzen in 2007. Caton, who died in June 2020, remained one of the restaurant’s guiding forces even after his passing, and Haslett is convinced that he and Eskew have a duty to honor his legacy as they serve as stewards of what he has created in this new chapter.
“I told Jess when we were sitting around talking about it that I hope she doesn’t mind, but we want his picture to stay where it is because he belongs here,” Haslett said. “It was her passion project, and when he died she wanted to continue it. We also want to continue it by remembering her legacy and continuing to build on it.”