In pandemic, new businesses in St. Louis’ Dutchtown neighborhood

“We’re very excited. We hope to help with the pandemic recovery,” said Caya Aufiero, owner of Urban Eats Neighborhood Food Mall

ST. LOUIS – Caya Aufiero and her husband ran a successful business called Urban Eats Cafe on Meramec Street and Virginia Avenue in the Dutchtown neighborhood of St. Louis for 12 years.

But the couple had to close their store unexpectedly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have done a good job for a long time and worked very hard on it. We are sad to close this social experience,” said Aufiero.

Aufiero said she and her husband remain committed to the neighborhood in which they live and work. After the entrepreneurs closed their cafe, they opened their building for a new business – the Urban Eats Neighborhood Food Mall.

“We hope to be able to help with this revitalization of the area during the pandemic. We are very excited and it is going very well,” said Aufiero.

In the past seven months, they have made room for new, diverse restaurants.

“Our diverse neighborhood is home to people of all races and ethnic groups, and we’re proud of it. This is a great opportunity to give startups (and restaurants) the opportunity to get their foot in the door and concept without it the tremendous amount of testing of risk and cash expenditure required to start new businesses, “said Aufiero.

She added that there is room for five full-time restaurants and a few pop-up restaurants in the building.

Popular new Mexican and Creole soul food restaurants and a patisserie are just a few of the dozen stores that pop up in Dutchtown.

“I was a little nervous,” said Tracy Mertens, who opened the Forget Me Not boutique, a clothing store, two months ago.

“January is usually a low month for retail in general, but this month is pulling up nicely. I think we’re going to do well,” she said.

Neighbors have said since the 1990s that Dutchtown has grown steadily on many levels. And now that the small businesses emerge, they are hoping their neighborhood will get a much-needed economic boost.

“I’m very excited, too. A lot of positive things are going on here – new businesses, new business owners, new homeowners. It’s definitely a fresh start for Dutchtown,” said LaTasha Smith, owner of Cross Grand Creative Agency, a photography studio that opened before seven Months ago.

A new sushi bar and smoothie shop will also be opening soon in the Urban Eats Neighborhood Food Hall.

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