A Conversation With St. Louis Restaurant Owner Aaron Teitelbaum Of Herbie’s
Picture yourself slipping into a leather booth with a specialty cocktail, well-lit by French-style windows, all while taking in vintage Parisian artwork, enjoying some post-work relaxation or a weekend meetup. It’s a nice vision, right? Luckily, you can experience it for yourself at Herbie’s, now in Clayton.
The bar with a bistro-like flair takes its culinary cues from a combination of French and American flavors and a handcrafted cocktail menu. Aaron Teitelbaum, owner of both Herbie’s and Kingside Diner in the Central West End, has led the establishment to steady success, which is particularly rare in the restaurant industry. Last year, Teitelbaum took Herbie’s from its Central West End location where Balaban’s once stood and relocated it among the low-rise apartments in the business district of downtown Clayton. With the move came pressure to succeed in the space which once housed Cardwell’s, the fine-dining restaurant.
Keep reading for our conversation with Teitelbaum about the transition and his five favorite dishes at Herbie’s.
It’s been about a year since you’re relocated to Clayton from the Central West End. How has the transition been?
It’s been an unbelievable transformation and an unbelievable journey. Through the move, we doubled our sales from last year in the Central West End. The team has been coming together like there’s no tomorrow, and they’ve just been amazing. It has definitely not been without hiccups, but today we really are the restaurant I always wanted [us] to be.
Has success in the new spot met your expectations?
I base my performance on what I did in the Central West End because I’m not really a pie-in-the-sky sort of person. I live in fairly strong absolutes, and I’d rather be pleasantly surprised than the alternative. But I definitely didn’t expect the response that we got. It’s been a blessing and a curse at the same time. We’ve been finding our way through the challenges, but in the last four months we really found our path. The restaurant has been firing on every cylinder.
What do you attribute to the spike in business and popularity?
First and foremost, the former Cardwell’s location we’re in just has so much history. This facility has been underutilized for so long that people wanted to see it revitalized. For us, to bring Herbie’s there—which is a really unique restaurant—that’s a neat thing for people to experience. We’re not a traditional, boring sort of establishment. You get personality in my restaurants. You also get quality and care, and I think Clayton was waiting for something like that. We’re not just a suit-and-tie kind of place.
I really feel like we’re filling a void. We’re not just focused on tapas, and we’re also not just a run-of-the-mill steakhouse. We’re a modernized French-American bistro, and you can really pick up on that eclectic vibe from the staff and what we offer on the menu.
What have been some of the biggest challenges of navigating a large-scale move?
Initially, one of the biggest hiccups was with our kitchen. As we are not a standard chain-style restaurant, we were definitely working on a budget. It would be easy to come into this location thinking, “If Bill Cardwell used this kitchen and was as successful as he was, then we will be able be just as successful,” but I found out quickly that we had to rebuild our kitchen. The way we prepare our food is just different, so our kitchen had to be updated. We’ve also gone through a couple of changes with the team, who at the time were struggling to hold down the functionality of the kind of kitchen that I wanted. But the team I have now has really found their stride, and we’ve got everything we need.
Was it bittersweet to leave the neighborhood?
It was. But it has been a very good move for Herbie’s. I’m also still down in the Central West End with Kingside Diner a lot—it’s part of my home.
What aspects of the original menu are maintained and what has been updated?
Our lunch menus are brand new because we haven’t done lunch in years. The dinner menu is pretty reminiscent of what we did in the Central West End location, but we’ve just launched brand-new menus for brunch, lunch and dinner that will move us more towards the roots of our original concept, which is French cuisine with Asian and American overtones. It’s a complete overhaul.
How has your position changed from working as a chef?
My role now as an owner is to focus on being a mentor to my team—and the business aspects. There’s a lot more to our business now with catering, lunch and brunch, which is another piece of the business that is much greater than what we had in the Central West End. I’m more on the operational side, while the other piece of this has been really focusing on the service aspect. Our team has been doing a great job with that.
What are five dishes at Herbie’s we should try?
The beef Wellington and firecracker shrimp are two of our most popular dishes. And our Dover sole, which we fly in fresh three times a week that’s filleted table-side—that’s a dish that won’t ever leave the menu. We also have smoked-trout pancakes, made with Missouri trout and served on a corn pancake with horseradish aioli. That’s a really special dish. And our chocolate fritters, of course. They’re just stellar.
Even with all of the menu changes, those dishes consistently make the cut. They’re our version of classics, which are always our most requested and talked-about dishes.
All images courtesy of Herbie’s.
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