Senada Grbic and Ermin Gribic are excited to begin a new chapter.
An iconic St. Louis restaurant is about to undergo a significant transformation: Grbic Restaurant (4071 Keokuk Street, 314-772-3100)
, the 30-year-old restaurant that introduced St. Louis diners to Bosnian cuisine, will close to the public on August 28 to focus solely on the special events side of its business. The Grbic family announced the closure in a Facebook post on August 2, assuring longtime guests that this is not a goodbye but is simply a new way forward for the beloved restaurant.
"This morning, I was in a sad place but then all of a sudden, my brain stopped me and was like, 'No, no. What are you doing? You are going on to bigger and better things here,'" says chef and co-owner Senada Grbic. "I just got this new jolt of energy. I'm so sad to see this chapter ending, but I am so excited about this new chapter."
As Senada explained in both her post and to the Riverfront Times
, she and her family have decided to wind down their restaurant operations so that they can devote themselves fully to their robust private events business. For as long as they can remember, they have felt pulled in two different directions, dividing attention between their dining room and their banquets. Now, after a massive renovation of the private events venue, they feel it is a good time to focus all of their attention to that one side of operations.
The changes are bittersweet for the entire Grbic family. After opening in Dutchtown in 1992, Grbic has become the most recognizable symbol on the Bosnian community's impact on the St. Louis food scene, thanks to their warm hospitality and matriarch Ermina's cooking, even though she was a reluctant participant at first. Senada recalls the day her dad, Sulejman, piled the entire family in their car and drove them to the building that would become Grbic, dropping it on her mom that he had bought a restaurant after years of her telling him not to. However, once she realized it was a done deal, she devoted herself fully to making it a success, as did her children Senada, Ermin and the late Erna.
From day one, the restaurant was a family affair, with everyone playing an integral role in its success. It didn't take long for the restaurant to become known as the
place in town for Bosnian cuisine, and it enjoyed a loyal following and increasingly significant private events business. Senada is proud of what her family has created, but she is not shy about saying how hard it has been. Between the dining room, events venue and patio, it's not uncommon for them to be serving roughly 600 people at one time. It's a high-pressure environment that can be intense for the family and the staff to navigate.
Gribic restaurant has been a St. Louis institution since 1992.
"We're doing great business, and our employees are happy, but we want to make sure everyone stays happy, and we have to revisit our business model to do that," Senada says. "Plus, I'm ready to see my parents enjoy their life. The restaurant has been all-consuming because we are so hands on. We love the hustle and bustle of everything, but it's consuming our lives, and we needed to make a change."
Senada had been toying around with this idea for several months, but she found the push she needed to take the leap from a very special person: Her late sister, Erna, who passed away from cancer in 2019.
"I really feel like a lot of this is because of my sister's guidance," Senada says. "She [wanted] to do this six or seven years ago, but we never thought we could get here. Recently, I found her notebooks with all of these notes about closing — what she would do and how. It really opened our minds to what's possible. Plus, she really loved working events. I know it sounds funny, but working events always makes us feel closer to her. When I'm working a wedding, it's like I can see her in the space and have these 'What would Erna do?' moments."
Senada notes that her parents are a big reason she and her brother, Ermin, decided to wind down the restaurant side of the business. Though both are getting older, they have been hesitant to walk away from the restaurant; this feels like the only way to could convince them to retire. Senada laughs that they did not need much convincing; within a day or so after making the decision, her mom excitedly booked a ticket to Bosnia, something she did not have the luxury of doing in the past because of her restaurant obligations.
However, Senada also feels that these changes are an important way forward for her and Ermin. For her part, she is eager to design new menus and build upon the foundation her mother has given her. She insists she is keeping her mom's recipes and will continue to offer traditional Bosnian dishes, though she plans on making them more appropriate for an elevated banquet format. It's a big change but one she is ready to take on.
"It doesn't feel like an ending because this is truly what I have been wanting," Senada says. "I'm so excited to take on this new chapter and take everything my mom taught me and find a way to elevate it and incorporate it in a new way. I'm really looking forward to pushing myself and challenging myself. I have so much creative energy, and I am ready to unleash it."
We are always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at [email protected]