Since 2018, longtime Three Monkeys employee Zach Rice and his wife, Mary, were at the helm of the Tower Grove South mainstay, honoring its legacy as the neighborhood's gathering place and carrying on business as usual. Even when the pandemic hit, they kept the Three Monkeys brand alive, doing everything from takeout and frozen pizzas to groceries. They were successful, but the Rices could not shake the feeling that the space was in need of not simply a refresh, but a completely new concept that would be a worthy successor to the beloved restaurant.
That successor, Black Sheep Whiskey & Wine
, and its sister concept, Mama 2's Biscuits by Black Sheep (3153 Morganford Road, 314-772-9800)
, opened quietly a few weeks ago, bringing biscuits, brunch, cocktails and elevated bar fare to the Morganford business district. As Mary explains, the idea for the two brands has been brewing for a while
— fifteen years, to be exact.
"Zach and I have been together for fifteen years, and since the beginning, we've wanted to own our own place," Mary says. "Whiskey and wine was always where we wanted to go, but when we had the chance to buy Three Monkeys, we knew it was our opportunity to start the ownership part of our career. However, when the pandemic hit, we looked at things and felt that this version of Three Monkeys had run its course. We thought, let's take this bad situation and turn it into a new beginning."
According to the Rices, the decision to completely overhaul Three Monkeys into Black Sheep Whiskey & Wine came from what they saw as a need for a good date night spot in the neighborhood. As both Tower Grove South residents and business owners, the pair felt that the area lacked an elevated meeting place where guests could pop in for a bottle of wine, speciality cocktail and snacks. As such, Black Sheep features of sharable items, with some entrees sprinkled in, including dishes like flatbread pizzas and cheese boards. They hope to expand their offerings as they get their feet underneath them (and find staffing), with dishes like specialty burgers made from either bison or lamb and additional entrees.
However, Black Sheep is only part of the story. The Rices are also operating a brunch concept, Mama 2's Biscuits by Black Sheep, out of the space as its own, independent concept. As the Rices explain, they made the decision to separate the two ideas because they hope to launch Mama 2's one day as its own brand, and did not want to tie it to the Black Sheep concept. For now, they are running it out of the Black Sheep space Thursday through Sunday from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. On Mondays, Mama 2's has expanded hours, dubbed "Industry Brunch," that caters to those who either work in the hospitality business or work unconventional hours that prevent them from enjoying brunch on the weekends.
If Black Sheep is a passion project for Mary, Mama 2's is Zach's labor of love. Growing up in Tennessee, he learned to cook from a grandmotherly figure in his life whose signature dish was biscuits brushed in bacon fat. Using those experiences as inspiration, Zach's menu consists of around ten biscuit sandwiches like fried chicken thighs with gravy or cheddar and bacon, as well as a handful of salads and sandwiches to round out the offerings.
"This is a typical Southern-style brunch," Zach says. "We cook like grandma would cook. Everything is made from scratch, and it is a labor of love."
In addition to Black Sheep and Mama 2's, the Rices are planning yet another new(ish) concept for the neighborhood. Honoring the Three Monkeys legacy, the pair plan to open a small, carryout version of the brand called Three Little Monkeys, which will features some of the shuttered restaurant's greatest hits like pizza, wings and nachos. The space, which is currently under construction, will open sometime next year, though they Rices are hesitant to give a firm date because of anticipated delays.
"Three Monkeys had such an identity, and the brand had such an identity, that if we were going to change things, we had to change them majorly," Zach says. "Otherwise, people would feel like we just slapped some new paint on the walls. We really asked ourselves, 'What does this neighborhood need, and what would we like to see?' That was the key factor driving our decisions."
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