Benton Park Cafe, a longtime neighborhood staple, has new owners, but the same vibe.
A popular neighborhood restaurant is getting a second lease on life thanks to new owners. Benton Park Cafe (2901 Salena Street)
, the 15-year-old south St. Louis breakfast and lunch spot, has been bought by local entrepreneurs Elicia Eskew and Gavin Haslett, two longtime patrons of the restaurant who look forward to carrying forth its legacy. Though no firm opening date has been set, the business partners hope to reopen the restaurant sometime this coming winter, hopefully no later than January.
"This has always been a place that I've loved," Haslett says. "I think it's a great little restaurant and a great location, and it was always a nice place to go and grab some food. I really liked it, and when it closed [in April] for the renovation, I thought, 'OK, let's see what happens,' but as time went on, I kept thinking to myself that it wasn't reopening. It just so happened that me and my business partner had been looking to invest money into small businesses locally, so we got in touch with the former owner. It just meshed beautifully with what me and my partner wanted to do, and everything just fell into place."
According to Haslett, Benton Park Cafe's previous owner and co-founder, Jessica Lenzen, had every intention of reopening the restaurant after she closed it for renovations this past April. However, as she kept getting further and further along in the process — and further removed from the daily grind of running a restaurant — she realized that she was ready to hand off the business to someone else. Eskew and Haslett seemed like the right people for the job, not simply because of their business savvy, but also because of their genuine affection for the place. After a brief negotiation period, the three finalized their agreement about two months ago, with Lenzen agreeing to help the new owners during the transition to ensure that the spirit of the place lives on.
Haslett could not be happier about having Lenzen's support.
"We want to bring back the same identity that the place had before it closed," Haslett says. "We loved what they were doing before so much, so why change it? It's a success, so we want to keep going with that."
Along those lines, Haslett emphasizes that he and Eskew have no plans for major changes to Benton Park Cafe. Renovations, which began under Lenzen, are mostly back-of-house infrastructure changes that guests will not necessarily notice. Out front, patrons can expect a fresh coat of paint and new floors, but the overall feel for the place will remain unchanged. Haslett specifically mentions how much he always loved the works of local artists displayed on the restaurant's walls and his commitment to keeping that going.
As for the food, longtime Benton Park Cafe fans can rest assured that Eskew and Frantzen plan on reopening with essentially the same menu that was served during Lenzen's tenure. Though they may add a new dish or take off an item that did not sell well, guests can expect the same food they have come to love over the years. This includes Park Avenue Coffee products, which Haslett notes were a staple of his many meals at the cafe.
Another important fixture 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 passed away in June of 2020, remained one of the restaurant's guiding forces even after his passing, and Haslett feels strongly that he and Eskew have a duty to honor his legacy as they serve as stewards of what he created in this new chapter.
"I told Jess when we were sitting down talking about this that I hope she doesn't mind, but we want his picture to stay right where it is because he belongs here," Haslett says. "This was his passion project, and when he passed, she wanted to keep it going. We want to keep it going as well by remembering his legacy and continuing to build on it."