Clayton has always been a dining destination; and now, even visitors to Shaw Park can have a first-class culinary experience in the heart of the city.

The food concession at the park’s pool was taken over earlier this year by restaurateur Frank Schmitz of BARcelona, Bocci Bar and Coastal Bistro fame. Schmitz revamped the menu, which now offers burgers, brats and hot dogs along with salads, sandwiches and other light fare. He also improved the kitchen with the addition of commercial equipment, including deep friers and an oven, to facilitate a quicker turnaround time for orders. Customers can now use credit and debit cards; even gift cards are available.

While this rejuvenation was happening at the pool, the city was thinking of doing something with the Century Garden area between the ice rink and the pool. Tables and chairs were placed in the space to allow park visitors to have somewhere to eat, and soon the powers-that-be noticed quite a few people making use of the area. They decided to take the next step and ask their new culinary partner to help create a dining area.

“When we took over the food and beverage service at the Shaw Park pool in May, we discussed with the city the idea of combining the kitchen at the pool facilities to do something there,” Schmitz says. The result: the Shaw Park Garden Café, which opened for business July 6.

Since there was no permanent structure to work with, a tent was erected in the garden area, and power was run to it. A small bar, featuring four taps of Schlafly beer, as well as a small selection of wine and other beverages, was installed. Food is ordered from the pool kitchen via walkietalkie and then delivered to customers. The café patio area has two- and four-seat tables, seats about 56 and is open Friday from 4 to 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon until 8 p.m.

“We started it very slowly,” Schmitz says. “The idea is to see how this year goes, test it and find solutions so that next year it’ll be even better. It’s been a very interesting project.”

He says that so far, feedback has been positive. “People have been in favor of the variety and faster service, and the better product we can put out as restaurateurs,” he says.

Eric Gruenenfelder, superintendent of recreation for Clayton, says the experience has been wonderful so far. “The people we’ve heard from really like being able to sit and eat in a café setting. The idea of partnering with Frank was that having that quality of food would draw people to the café, and he’s working hard to make sure it’s run well.”

Gruenenfelder says the café will be open through September, and that timeframe may be stretched into October if there’s enough demand. He added that the city will be trying different ideas out to attract customers to the space, like live music, in the coming weeks.

“We’re thinking about how the situation can be more permanent next year, as well as how the menu can be expanded,” Schmitz says. “We’re looking at a lot of different things.” Some possibilities for next year include converting the ‘warming hut,’ located next to the ice rink, into a dedicated kitchen facility. If that proves too costly, Schmitz says it may be possible to bring in a mobile kitchen, possibly a food truck or food trailer. He adds that the days and hours of operation may be expanded, as well.

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