From a Soulard Stall to a Storefront
For eight sweaty summers and toe-numbing winters, Lona’s Lil Eats operated a stall at Soulard Farmers Market, serving giant rice paper wraps and spring rolls that drew crowds. According to husband-wife co-owners Pierce Powers and (the eponymous) Lona Luo, their stall had dozens of previous occupants since the 1970s who, for whatever reason, didn’t make it. Lona’s almost joined that list: The first two years were losers, and the pair was ready to quit.
Fortunately, luck turned so much so that in September of 2015, they opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the Fox Park neighborhood. The fast-casual space has a friendly neighborhood vibe – the limited indoor and outdoor tables fill up quickly during lunch and dinner service. Giant rice paper wraps and spring rolls are still available, plus dumplings, soup, whole grilled fish and a variety of other additions. A selection of red and white wines and local beers, as well as daily housemade sweets like pineapple-coconut butter or ginger-molasses cookies, round out the offerings.
Made From Scratch Real Flavors and Feelings
Luo hails from the Yunnan province in the far southwest corner of China. Powers grew up cooking with both his mother and French grandmother. The food served at Lona’s reflects their rich culinary array served in a contemporary form. The menu is centered around customization, where you create your own plate, tortilla or giant rice wrap with staples including stir-fried or cold glass noodles, stir-fried whole-grain rice or chopped salad; proteins including spicy tofu, sautéed shrimp, grilled steak and meats smoked in house; and sauces such as lemongrass pesto and a house Lona-Q barbecue. Every sauce and dry rub is made from scratch, every garlic clove and ginger root peeled by hand, and nuts and spices roasted and smoked on-site.
Powers and Luo are passionate about paying a living wage. "We believe it's essential that all restaurant workers can work 40 hours and afford some sort of a life," Powers says. "Our goal for all full-time workers at Lona's Lil Eats is to eliminate the two-job lifestyle generally required by low wages. Solid hourly wages and labor share are both part of the agreement between Lona's and the work force. Every full-time employee earns at least $29,000 annually, and we are constantly trying to push it up."
Lona’s Lil Eats, 2199 California Ave., Fox Park, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.925.8938, lonaslileats.com