James Forbes entered the contest on a whim. But after months of planning, presentations and cook-offs, his proposal to expand Good Life Growing – a St. Louis urban farm aimed at combating food insecurity – beat out 24 other “foodie entrepreneurs” in the Fantasy Food Fare Competition. In addition to $100,000, Forbes and his partners received the keys to a 4,400-square-foot space in the Old North neighborhood, including an outfitted commercial kitchen, two years’ paid rent, free branding, a restaurant mentor and more. The result is Old North Provisions, a locally sourced grocery store, event space and comfort-food buffet that will open this summer.
Tell us about the concept for Old North Provisions. The primary component is a locally sourced, sustainable grocery store featuring Good Life produce as well as items produced within 15 miles of St. Louis. We’re partnering with City Greens [a grocery cooperative in The Grove], so we’ll offer a similar model; people will have the option to become members and receive discounted pricing. Specifically, we’ll be sourcing vegetables and produce from Bohlen Family Farms, and dried goods, like salsa from Two Men & a Garden or Freddie Lee’s gourmet sauces. We’ll also have a Missouri comfort food-themed buffet serving dishes like bacon-braised kale with locally sourced rice, and “unfried” chicken, which looks and tastes like fried chicken but is actually baked and coated in panko crumbs. Ideally, the buffet component will source a lot of items from our grocery store with the hopes that folks who live in and around the North St. Louis area who might otherwise be hesitant to buy some of the stuff we have on the shelves can see it, taste it and experience it [in a dish], so it might inspire them to cook more at home. Lastly, we’re going to be available as a private event space where people can hold parties, events, business meetings and more.
What are you trying to share with the neighborhood? We’re just trying to bring back that authentic feel of a neighborhood market. That’s not to knock the big-box stores, but as a lot of grocery stores left some of the slower-populated, lower-income parts of St. Louis, it’s left a lot of folks with no other options other than to travel far outside of the neighborhood to get to a grocery store. We’re looking to serve the community that we’re in, but we’re also trying to give people a reason to come to Old North aside from going to Crown Candy [Kitchen] and looking at the [historic] houses. People can come and experience what the neighborhood has to offer, and ideally strike up a conversation and meet people who live here.
What’s next for Good Life and Old North Provisions? Down the line, we hope to be able to offer a shared-use kitchen or serve as a food aggregator for a lot of the local community gardens that don’t have a place to wash, package and store their inventory. We’re also going to be working with Hussmann [a local refrigeration and fresh-food storage corporation] to prototype a living-produce merchandiser. The idea is that you’d be able to have a member of our staff cut a head of lettuce for you on-site, so the lettuce is only a couple of seconds old as opposed to what you’d find at the grocery store.
Old North Provisions, 2720 N. 14th St., Old North, St. Louis, Missouri, goodlifegrowing.com