Lauded St. Louis chef Ben Poremba once fancied himself the iconic Italian film star Marcello Mastroianni, outfitted with a Zegna tie, couture cuff links and a James Bond-style briefcase as he zipped around in his Jaguar collecting unique antiques.
Lucky for St. Louisans, these elegant accoutrements and vintage furnishings to refresh your home for the new year are now for sale at Poremba’s latest venture, The Commissary. Open along Cherokee Street since October, the sophisticated shop offers “pre-loved relics” resurrected from the culinary master’s personal stash of thoughtfully collected effects, dishware, furniture and home goods.
“I’ve always been a fan of thrifting and antiquing,” says Poremba, the head of Bengelina Hospitality Group and award-winning operator of Nixta & Bar Limón, Elaia & Olio, La Patisserie Chouquette and AO&Co. Market & Café.
The three-time James Beard Award Best Chef-Midwest semifinalist has been around the world, including living in Parma, Italy, while studying food culture and gastronomy at the University of Gastronomic Studies. Amid his travels and visits to auctions and estate sales, the Israeli native and culinary connoisseur accumulated a vast number of relics – and that gave him an idea. “We have stuff, and we had a place, so we thought to ourselves, ‘Why not?’” he says.
The new store’s space was originally slated as a commercial-grade commissary kitchen to prep and store food and equipment for production at Poremba’s restaurants. But the pandemic forced the chef to pivot the project. “COVID-19 made us shelf those plans for now,” he says. “We’ve been renting, so we needed to generate some revenue to cover up the expense. Also, over the years, we’ve amassed so much stuff, and the shutdown allowed us to pause and think about every aspect of our business.”
Managed by Sean Kraham, the shop – fittingly situated among Cherokee Street’s creative culture and diverse retailers, antique stores and galleries – is “urban and unassuming, with good lighting and good music,” Poremba says. “It’s very welcoming. And it’s dynamic – the feel changes based on the offerings.”
Kraham, who has a background in fashion design and merchandising, “brilliantly described [The Commissary’s] offerings as ‘pre-loved,’” Poremba says, adding: “I call it unabashedly ‘a glorified thrift store.’”
The shop’s items, ranging from $1 glassware to a $500 bar stool, come from treasure troves in Poremba’s business’ basements and storerooms. “At this point, we don’t really curate – we excavate and resurrect,” he notes.
Poremba explains that the collected inventory of pre-loved gems is a rotating assortment running the gamut from “tabletop appointments and furnishings … to cool art and objects …to beautiful Limoges porcelain plates that I carried with me 20 years ago from France.” Of course, the inventory also includes a range of vintage high-fashion accessories, all pre-loved by the chef himself.
Every piece has a story, and with a new owner comes its next chapter. “It’s really liberating to get rid of stuff, and it’s rewarding that others are enjoying things that we loved,” Poremba says.
The Commissary is turning sustainable secondhand shopping into an upscale experience, Kraham says. “We focus on bringing in unique pre-loved and quality dishware, glassware, furniture and home goods at suitable price points,” he explains. “We’ve designed the space to create an elegant and comfortable shopping experience for everyone. The feel of the space is constantly changing as we source new merchandise from our personal collections and consign with other local sources.”
Store hours run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, with shopping by appointment other days of the week. Deliveries and curbside services are available by messaging email@example.com or @_thecommissary_ on Instagram.
As for The Commissary’s future, Poremba predicts an elegant evolution: “It’s going to evolve into a more sophisticated shop, still approachable and affordable, but more intentional.”
The Commissary, 2744 Cherokee St., St. Louis, 314-833-3585, commissarystl.com