Chef and restaurateur Ben Poremba has made quite a name for himself in the local culinary scene in recent years. His places—Elaia & Olia, La Patisserie Choquette and Old Standard Fried Chicken—have brought a wide range of good food and drink to St. Louis. Poremba’s efforts have garnered him plenty of attention locally and beyond, including being named a semi-finalist for the James Beard Best Chef: Midwest award in 2014, and as one of 10 chefs who vied for Food & Wine magazine’s People’s Best New Chef: Midwest title that year, as well.
Poremba, 35, grew up in Israel where his mother, a chef and culinary educator, got him hooked on the business early on. He came to St. Louis during his senior year of high school when his father was transferred, and he stayed for college at University of Missouri-St. Louis, graduating with a degree in philosophy
Though Poremba left St. Louis several times over the ensuing years—going back to Israel for a spell and tramping across Europe, among other adventures--he somehow always managed to make his way back. He returned the last time nine years ago, and eventually started working the kitchen at Winslow’s Home. During his tenure there, Poremba met Marc Sanfilippo, who had recently started the popular Salume Beddu salumeria, and partnered with him in the fledgling business, a collaboration that gained him plenty of fans among local foodie types.
It was during this time that he had also met his partner in life and business, Angela Giancola, the other half of Bengelina Hospitality Group. Poremba says family life with her and their son, Omri, ensures that he won’t be leaving town anytime soon.
All the while he was partnering with others, Poremba was working toward opening his own place: The effort culminated in the unique, side-by-side Elaio & Olio. Located in the historic Botanical Heights neighborhood and housed in a renovated brick residence and a converted gas station, respectively, Poremba says they’re truly expressions of his personal style of cooking and his aesthetic sense.
“They were my dream come true,” he says. Elaia is the elegant, understated eatery of the two, while Olio goes for a more casual approach, but both combine Poremba’s myriad culinary influences, from Mediterranean to Middle Eastern to Eastern European and beyond, while serving the same goal: to get people to gather together and indulge in the the best food and drink.
Not content to bask in this success, bake shop extraordinaire La Patisserie Choquette, located just across the street, followed next. This past fall, Poremba’s latest venture, Old Standard Fried Chicken, opened just a couple blocks away in another re-purposed garage space to rave reviews and crowds of hungry customers.
Although it wasn’t necessary part of his original plan, locating his places in the same neighborhood has proved to be a real boon to the business.
“The plan originally was to find some place under the radar that was near a lot of things and from a business perspective would be a good opportunity,” Poremba says of his decision to locate Elaia & Olio in the neighborhood. But as he spent more time in the area, he recognized the opportunities available and decided to locate his other projects nearby, as well.
“Right now, it’s sort of a thing with me. I’m really dedicated to this neighborhood and its development,” he says. “To see what a successful restaurant does to a neighborhood is pretty amazing.”
Poremba says he realizes that the success of all of his endeavors has definitely been the result of dedication and a talented group of cohorts.
“Some people think (restaurants) just take some money and that’s it, but it takes a lot of hard work,” he says. “I surround myself with people who are consummate professionals. Having all of them around me, these really serious, talented people, I think has everything to do with it.”
Even with everything he’s got on his plate, don’t expect Poremba to sit still. He has a slew of ideas brewing for new places, one of which may see the light of day this year. Though it’s too early to reveal details, he says “It’ll be the first of it’s kind in St. Louis.”
We can’t wait.