It’s hard to be heard above the construction noise inside the 20,000-square-foot building at the corner of Page and Ferguson avenues in Pagedale. And that is music to Chris Krehmeyer’s ears.
The President and CEO of Beyond Housing recently walked through the interior buildouts in progress and described the tenants that will be opening there in the coming months.
“We wanted to attract existing, strong businesses and have them grow here,” Krehmeyer said. “The whole idea is to create a gathering place.”
The tenants include these established businesses that are already operating successfully within North St. Louis County:
- Burn 365 Fitness, a gym owned by kinesthesiologist (and former Pagedale police officer) Shameka Smith that offers weight training classes and private coaching.
- The clothing boutique Girlfriend’s Closet and Healthy Habits Smoothies, both owned by Brittany Wayne.
- Three Vegan Brothers, which produces vegan cheeses and gluten-free crackers, owned by Marlon Austin, Mark Austin, and Brian Austin.
- Goss’Up Pasta, a caterer and restaurant owned and operated by Quiana “Queen” Chapple for more than 25 years.
- Missouri Home Health and Therapy, the company Dionneshea “Dionne” Forland founded in 2005 to provide physical, speech, and occupational therapy and skilled nursing services. It also offers state-funded in-home care, consumer-directed services, and more.
There’s also an exciting startup tenant. Propel Kitchens, a nonprofit community kitchen created in partnership with multiple local organizations and agencies, has signed on to operate out of a large second-floor space within the new building.
“It’s a two-fold effort,” explained Barry Maciak, a development consultant who is helping launch the innovative community kitchen. “Not only are we using food and nutrition as tools to equip people with skills and abilities to enter the job market or a career path as workers or entrepreneurs, at the same time, we are producing healthy and nutritious meals for clients and the community.”
This effort is in sync with Beyond Housing’s comprehensive model for transforming underserved communities which emphasizes strengthening individuals, transforming the physical environment, and creating change at the systems level across impact areas from housing to employment to health to personal finance.
Moving Forward After a Rollercoaster Year
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, these small businesses were putting money aside to fund the buildouts of their spaces in Pagedale. The sudden economic downturn could have scuttled their plans completely. “Quarantine took all my money, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it,” said Shameka Smith of Burn 365 Fitness.
Beyond Housing and its network of partners mobilized to bridge the gap. For example, the Republic Services Charitable Foundation awarded grants of $105,000 to fund the buildouts of Goss’up Pastas, Three Vegan Brothers, and Healthy Habits Smoothies. The grants are part of $1 million Republic Services pledged to Beyond Housing and seven other affiliates of NeighborWorks America to support locally owned companies impacted by the pandemic.
Those three businesses are pivotal to the food court, which will be a centerpiece of the new building. “The biggest thing the community told us as we were planning this project—using our Ask-Align-Act model for local input—is that we need more places to eat,” Krehmeyer said. The food court will have seating for 90 customers, and Krehmeyer added that a pub is in the works for the adjacent space.
With wall girders and insulation in place on the lower floor and drywall and doors being hung on the second floor, the building’s interior is a hive of activity. Less-visible details like utility connections and mail delivery are also being completed, and the project is on track for the first businesses to open this summer.
Maciak said that Propel Kitchens expects to be in mass production in its second-floor space this fall. One of its first clients will be Three Vegan Brothers, which currently produces its plant-based cheeses in Chicago.
In the meantime, Propel Kitchens will collaborate with underutilized commercial kitchens across the St. Louis region as part of its soft launch this summer. “In the buzz we’ve created so far, a lot of opportunity is coming to us, and we’re able to embrace that because we’ve created a model of having partners already with us,” he said.
It’s exciting that the community’s ecosystem is able to support fledgling businesses like Propel Kitchen from the start—and in turn, Krehmeyer said, the community’s young people stand to benefit from the good-paying jobs in the culinary arts that will be available starting this fall.
The long-term results will create a stronger, more equitable, and prosperous St. Louis for everyone.