Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Jen Kaslow Is Keeping Meshuggah Cafe's Coffee the Same

Posted By on Tue, Oct 6, 2015 at 6:00 AM

click to enlarge Jen Kaslow of Meshuggah Cafe. - CHERYL BAEHR
  • Cheryl Baehr
  • Jen Kaslow of Meshuggah Cafe.

When Patrick Liberto handed over the keys to Meshuggah Cafe (6269 Delmar Ave., 314-726-5662) to its new owner, he had one simple request: Keep the coffee the same. 

Fortunately for Liberto — and the legions of longtime regulars who frequent the Loop's java mainstay — that new owner is Jen Kaslow. Anyone who has been around the cafe long enough has probably encountered Kaslow. The former school learning specialist has been getting her caffeine fix at Meshuggah for nearly two decades, dating back to its smoke-filled first home on Melville Avenue. 

"When Patrick told me he was selling Meshuggah to move back to Louisiana, all I could think was, somebody has to take care of it," Kaslow recalls. "I wondered who was going to buy it, and then I just said out loud, 'I'll buy it.'"

See also: At Meshuggah Cafe, a Regular Becomes an Owner as Patrick Liberto Says Goodbye 

Though buying a business on a whim would normally cause a person angst, Kaslow was instantly at peace with her decision. Sure, she had a good job that she loved at New City School and had previously felt no inclination to leave it. In fact, she had anticipated taking on additional responsibilities at the school for the coming school year. But something about buying Meshuggah seemed right. When she shared the idea with her husband, he agreed that it was the right move.

"He's very practical," explains Kaslow. "He told me that the idea made perfect sense — that he couldn't think of one reason not to do it."

A serendipitous encounter with one of Meshuggah's former regulars solidified Kaslow's decision.  "I went to Joe's Cafe" — a local art exhibition and gathering space — "and ran into an old friend, Bill Christman," recalls Kaslow. "He was one of the people who most represented Meshuggah to me — I met him at the old Meshuggah a long time ago." Kaslow, hadn't seen Christman in years and was eager to share with him her news.  "I went up to him and told him I had just bought Meshuggah. He said nothing except 'Follow me,'" she recounts. "He walked me downstairs into the basement, pulled out a flashlight and shone a light on an old door. Then he turned to me and said, 'This is the old Meshuggah's door. I want you to have it.'"

Kaslow saw in Christman's gesture what prompted her to buy the cafe in the first place — that she was there to be more of a steward than an owner. In that spirit, she's made only minor changes "more of a freshening up," she insists.

"I put out a suggestion jar, and it's overflowing," Kaslow adds. "It shows how much people care about this place." As she pulls the slips of paper out of the jar, the consensus represented on them is overwhelming: Don't change a thing. Kaslow plans on keeping that promise. 

Kaslow took a break from making Meshuggah's signature house Americano to share her thoughts on the St. Louis food and beverage scene, her perfect bagel and the morning ritual she can't live without — hint: It's now part of her job. 

What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
That I'm actually an introvert.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
My morning cup of coffee.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
I guess flying ... is that cheesy? Telepathic mind control would be pretty cool too!

What is the most positive thing in food, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
The ability to eat more locally grown, locally made fresh food. Also the availability of local craft bears and locally roasted coffee. Is that too many "locals" in a row?

Who is your St. Louis food crush?
John, the sushi chef at Straub's in the Central West End.

Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene?
That's an easy one... St. Louis's own James Beard Award winner, Gerard Craft [Niche]. He's a great chef and a great guy.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
Jalapeño, but my friends are trying to get me to say habañero.

If you weren’t working in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
Another easy one. Teaching. Which I was doing until this strange twist of events brought me to this.

Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen.
American cheese

What is your after work hangout?
My backyard. It's actually everybody's hangout.

What’s your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
Popcorn with truffle oil and Parmesan cheese, eaten with a spoon.

What would be your last meal on earth?
A perfectly toasted everything bagel with cream cheese and avocado ... and maybe a dollop of Cholula.

We are always interested in tips and feedback. Please email the author at cheryl.baehr@riverfronttimes.com.


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