St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station Russel Cunningham

Russel Cunningham, the longtime executive chef of Union Station, is spearheading the development of the three new concepts at the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station.

The much-anticipated, $187 million St. Louis Aquarium at St. Louis Union Station won’t open until later this year, but guests can get an early taste – literally – when the first phase opens this fall.

Three brand-new restaurant concepts will open inside the space over the next few months: The Train Shed, a restaurant and bar with industrial-chic décor softened by an art nouveau theme, featuring sustainable seafood, cocktails and craft beers; Soda Fountain at Union Station, a new-school spin on the retro diner, serving ice cream sundaes, phosphate sodas and burgers; and 1894 Café, a casual, family-friendly café.

Spearheading the development of the new concepts for Lodging Hospitality Management is Russel Cunningham, the longtime executive chef of Union Station. The buildout also includes a ropes course, mini golf and a 200-foot Ferris wheel next to the aquarium. 

Walk us through each of the three concepts. You could go to one restaurant for lunch, one for dinner and explore the aquarium or play on the Ferris wheel in between. Soda Fountain at Union Station is an old-school diner meets new; we’ll have housemade sodas and phosphates along with “Freak Shakes” [over-the-top milkshakes] and crazy sundaes – I looked at practically every soda fountain in the country, pulled together ideas, tweaked them and put our spin on it for that one. The Train Shed is our full-service, upscale restaurant; the décor is going to be more modern/industrial with a little bit of an art nouveau feel. We have a pizza oven and smoker, plus small plates such as crispy chickpeas and fried Brussels sprouts with Marcona almonds. 1894 Café is more food court-esque; it caters to families and school trips, with burgers, chicken tenders and salads.

How does sustainability play into the menu? Because we’re located in an aquarium, we feature a lot of seafood on the menu, such as a seared tuna slider with avocado, ginger-pickled carrot and radish on focaccia [at The Train Shed], but we also place great emphasis on sustainable seafood. We’re working with the Green Dining Alliance [in St. Louis] to play into this theme of the aquarium and sustainability.

Tell us about the R&D process for developing these three concepts. I got to travel around with the aquarium staff to check out other aquariums across the country – everywhere from the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga to the Monterey Bay Aquarium [in Monterey, California] to the New York Aquarium on Coney Island. Monterey has a huge foundation focused on sustainability, as well as little shops and candy stores surrounding the aquarium; there’s a smaller version of a bulk candy shop going in at Soda Fountain here.

St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station, 201 S. 18th St., Downtown West, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.923.3900, stlouisaquarium.com

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