After years cooking in some of St. Louis’ top kitchens and competing in the Culinary Olympics, James Beard semifinalist Ben Grupe finally has his own restaurant.
Tempus, located in The Grove neighborhood, is not exactly what he originally imagined, though: Since opening last October, the restaurant has been serving food exclusively for takeout. Focused on chef-driven American cuisine, the menu is designed to bring a sense of what is familiar, craveable and comforting to customers’ homes. Grupe believes that’s just what we need right now.
What’s the ethos at Tempus? We’re rooted in a classical foundation. My apprenticeships have always been rooted in classic technique and classic cooking – not necessarily French cooking but proper stock making, proper sauce making, proper butchery, etc. Through and through, [I’ve learned] the right way to do things, and that’s what Tempus is built on. We’re not trying to throw the arsenal of current trends and techniques on our menu; instead, we’re focused on proper, straightforward execution, which translates into thoughtful, purposeful, genuine hospitality.
How do you offer thoughtful service and genuine hospitality without the dine-in experience? That’s the challenge, right? The COVID-19 pandemic has really taught us to rethink what we do. A lot of places, speaking in general, have kicked into autopilot over the past few years; now we have to rise to this new challenge and find ways to sustain and develop the hospitality industry given our situation. With the menu at Tempus, it’s about keeping the food very familiar, and we’re not trying to pigeonhole ourselves with one style of food – there’s a lot of influence throughout our menu. We have a collaborative kitchen, so if there’s a cook who wants to do a dish, great – bring the ideas and let’s work on them. We’re focused on inclusivity in the kitchen and throughout the restaurant. It’s about taking a step back and asking ourselves, “What does it mean to be a restaurant in 2021?”
How has the original concept of Tempus changed? We scrapped all food concepts – the food that I intended to do simply does not work or make sense for takeout. So, during the construction delays at the beginning of the pandemic, I started honing in on what delicious food looks like as takeout. At first, it was like, this is no big deal, but as we started R&D, it was like, oh yeah, that’s not going to work at all. I think a lot of people take for granted the amount of work and coordination that goes into takeout; it’s just not as easy as putting food in a box, putting the box in a bag and sending it out the door.
What kind of dishes have you found work well for takeout? A lot of our bar snacks and finger foods that were slated for Tempus were fairly well-composed, and if you have any experience with takeout, you know that if you have something even remotely composed and you jostle the bag or drop the box, that composition turns into a jumbled mess. Some of those were also a quick fry, but we found that doing fried food is no bueno, with the exception of our chicken sandwich – I put that sandwich through the ringer. But we’re constantly tweaking recipes, tweaking techniques and finding the most efficient, effective way to execute [each dish] while also looking at it from the guest aspect. The way I see it, it’s the little things that make a big difference.
Tempus, 4370 Manchester Ave., The Grove, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.349.2878, tempusstl.com