Urban Eats is a fast casual restaurant concept dedicated to urban revitalization, healthy living and community building in historic South St. Louis.
When founders and husband and wife team John Chen and Caya Aufiero decided to purchase a beautiful 1929 furniture store in a struggling business district, opening a restaurant was the last thing on their minds. They wanted to provide the neighborhood with a common meeting space to foster community, so they leased the space out to two businesses tenants. When both businesses went under in less than a year, the duo knew they needed to create their own vision of revitalization. The product was Urban Eats, a casual and cool neighborhood restaurant with a mission of urban renewal through healthy, affordable food. Urban Eats has now been in operation for over nine years, with three locations that bring healthy food to urban food deserts, attract new businesses and residents to the neighborhoods, use art and music to attract a variety of customers, provide a gathering place for various diverse purposes and serve as vibrant community anchors.
Through a system-driven, people-focused, technology-enabled operating system, Urban Eats aspires to be a “market maker” in urban communities where other food options are lacking. They use their catering service, box lunch program and events to drive sales, which allows them to keep the retail cafe doors open in struggling neighborhoods that would not support a retail location on its own. Their food is fresh and affordable, creatively crafted with diverse ethnic influences. To stay true to their core mission, they incorporate organic foods, often using foods from their own garden. Urban Eats also offers cocktail, draft beer and espresso bars to create a relaxing place to hang out.
To keep the business running, Urban Eats utilizes a unique staffing model that allows employees to be part of the concept’s creation by educating and involving them in the all aspects of running a social enterprise. This includes daily operations, business and financial planning and community engagement projects. Additionally, the staff is self- and peer-managed with no general manager.
In addition to healthy food, Urban Eats endeavors to engage the community through artistic mediums. Their Arts Collective offers visual artists free space, the opportunity to host an event and a featured spot at the weekly Sunday brunch. The Music Collective operates similarly: volunteer musicians are invited to play their original music at Sunday brunch, enjoy free use of the space for their own events, promote and sell their music and get paid jobs through the catering service. Furthermore, Urban Eats participates in the Empty Bowls Project, a grassroots movement to help end hunger. The concept is simple: potters and other craftsmen, educators and nonprofits gather with the community to create handcrafted bowls. Guests are invited for a meal of soup and bread, and as a “thank you” for donating to local hunger relief, are gifted a handmade bowl as a reminder of all of the empty bowls in the world.
As a member of Social Enterprise Alliance, Urban Eats believes in using sound business practices to accomplish a mission for the greater good and has goals that are above and beyond making the business profitable. They believe that a successful business is the most sustainable way to keep it going and growing. As a social enterprise, Urban Eats strives to do well by doing good.
To learn more about Urban Eats, check out their member directory profile.