When Dominic Weiss first walked into Big Sky Cafe (47 South Old Orchard Avenue, Webster Groves; 314-962-5757)
, he was just a neighborhood kid looking for a gig bussing tables. Now, after three decades spent working at the restaurant and its former sister concepts, Weiss is stepping through Big Sky's front doors with a much different job title: restaurant owner.
On Monday, Big Sky's longtime owner Tim Mallett announced on Facebook
that he had sold the restaurant he founded in 1992 to Weiss. Citing a desire to retire from the restaurant business after 45 years, Mallett praised Weiss as Big Sky's "defender from the challenges of the last couple of years," stating that "there is no better man to carry on Big Sky Cafe's traditions and no one who cares more for the staff and the customers they deserve."
For Weiss, the opportunity to take over such a storied institution is both thrilling and humbling. Though he had no idea how far he would go in the company when he started at Big Sky just a few weeks after it opened, Weiss went on to rise through its ranks, making his way into the kitchen and eventually in both front-of-house and back-of-house management positions. His tenure with Mallett extended into the restaurateur's other brands as well; Weiss held prominent positions at Blue Water Grill, Ellie Forcella and Remy's Kitchen and Wine Bar.
A little over a decade ago, Weiss stepped away from Mallett's restaurant group to pursue opportunities outside of the restaurant industry. However, as he found himself missing the hospitality business, he made his way back to Big Sky, taking on a temporary role that was supposed to last a mere eight weeks. As he likes to joke, he never left.
"Tim told me that he had a short-term opportunity for me if I was still looking to get back in the business," Weiss says. "One of his employees was going to be out on medical leave, and he asked if I wanted to fill in working the door as a host and taking care of the dining room. I said, 'Sure, why not?' so in a manner of speaking, I am still covering for someone who was supposed to be out for a short period of time because I haven't left."
As Weiss explains, the experience of coming back made him realize that he wanted to stay on at Big Sky in a permanent capacity. He began taking on more and more responsibility, and eventually, he and Mallett started talking about him taking over the restaurant one day. Originally, they assumed that would be a five year plan, but they carried on, business as usual, for roughly a decade. Finally, in early 2020, Mallett decided he was ready to move on.
"Even before the pandemic, we started talking about it much more seriously," Weiss says. "He got to the point where he was ready to retire, and he said to me, 'So, are you ready?' I figured, yeah, I guess so. This was what we were going to do, right?"
Mallett and Weiss may have recently finalized the details of the sale, but the new owner is emphatic that he will still be looking to his old boss for advice. Referring to Mallett as a dear mentor and friend, Weiss is grateful for his guidance throughout the transition, as well as his willingness to help in any way that he can as long as Weiss needs it. Weiss admits that, even though he wants to respect Mallett's retirement, he has no plans to stop calling him to ask his opinion on things, and he is confident that Mallett will always be there for him and the restaurant.
Weiss also emphasizes that he has no plans to make dramatic changes to Big Sky. Considering his institutional knowledge of the place, as well as his respect for what Mallett created, Weiss feels that he has a responsibility to keep things running they way they always have.
"My plan is to be a steward of the brand," Weiss says. "I am tremendously proud of what Big Sky is and my part of it. Being afforded the opportunity to run Big Sky for the last ten years, I feel there is a lot of me in what it is now. Of course, a lot of that comes from Tim, so I don't have any big left turns on the horizon. My immediate goal is to steer the brand and continue to develop and stay relevant and continue to be what people have been able to count on for the thirty years we have been here. We want to have new things on a regular basis like we've always endeavored to do, and we want there to be a reason to come in and see what we are doing differently, but we are going to remain Big Sky."
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