Chatting With Restaurateur And Sommelier Stanley Browne of Robust In St. Louis
For Stanley Browne, a certified sommelier with a background in hospitality and a lifelong education in decanting, wine has always been something of an adventure. Together with Arlene, his wife and business partner, the couple established Robust Wine Bar in a leafy, historic suburb of St. Louis and quickly grew the business to a second location, with delicious small plates and an award-winning wine program that focuses on individual preferences. With a knockout culinary team behind their latest endeavor, Snax Gastrobar—a charming neighborhood pub serving elevated comfort food—the Brownes are solidifying their creative mission that introduces guests to the pleasures of fine wine. We chatted with Stanley about the unending allure of wine as an experience that engages the mind as well as the palette.
What is the most important piece of the community you’ve built around your business? How have you contributed to that community?
The most important piece is the relationships. You have to reach out to the community and see what supports them. My wife Arlene and I are very involved in giving back to the local community here, especially with the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, COCA, Pedal The Cause, Marygrove, the Webster Groves School District Foundation, the Art Fair and local churches. You have to reach out to different organizations that make up the community. We give back to them and try to help them in any way we can, and they give back to us. A lot of them have been long-standing partners that evolved ever since we opened, and we’re still reaching out and finding more all the time.
How have you transformed Robust into a truly unique experience?
I have a hotel restaurant background and over a decade of experience selling wines to restaurants and retail shops. I wanted to open Robust because I saw so many people struggling with wine lists and trying to understand it all. I know it can all be very intimidating for some, so I wanted to create a space to make wine more user-friendly, more approachable. That’s why I created our wine list by body style, so people can understand what style of wine they might like.
That sounds like a unique approach.
It is. Most people understand what body style of wine they want, so we approached it differently from a restaurant, where you get a list and have to figure it all out on your own. We try to offer an experience that’s easier. That’s why we do small plates—we want people to experiment with the wine and the food, and not be limited to just one bottle of wine and one big entree. We offer wine flights just so people can experience it all. It’s exciting when you get to match people and wine together, and help them find something they’re really excited about.
It’s really more of a learning experience, isn’t it?
Wine teaches you so many things: history, culture, geography. It teaches you about people—and food. To truly understand wine is to learn the background of all those different things. The more you go down that journey, the more you realize how much you have to learn. It’s an endless fascination.
Tell me about Snax Gastropub. How has that been a different challenge for you than Robust?
It’s been great. Like Robust, it’s set in a real, residential-neighborhood community and has been really well-received so far. The fare is elevated comfort food, and everything is made fresh from scratch daily. It was definitely the right time and the right opportunity. We thought that a Robust wouldn’t necessarily fit well there, so we wanted to make sure we weren’t trying to force a square peg into a round hole. It had to be a good fit for the neighborhood. In the end, it’s all about the community.
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