Lifting Black-Owned Restaurants in St. Louis With a Website Launched by a St. Louis Activist
By: Kathleen Berger
Chef Lawrence Andrew Reynolds has his own ideas about preparing food for his customers at Oasis Grill in St. Louis.
“Seafood grits is one of my creations that contain shrimp, lobster and crab meat,” said Reynolds.
Reynolds detailed how quality food is a pleasure for him to create. When it comes to eating his dishes, he’s not shy when describing how he believes his creations rank among others in St. Louis.
“We have the best damn crab cakes in St. Louis. No fillers, no breading, no peppers,” he said. “Just jumbo lump crab meat with seasoning and a house-made Cajun remoulade that we do. “
Reynolds is co-owner of Oasis Grill in Jennings, located in a predominantly black community that’s at the heart of his business partner’s vision.
“He’s from Jennings,” he said. “He (Terrance Fuller) graduated from Jennings High School. His mother lives in the neighborhood. He likes the finer things in life.”
Fuller and Reynolds wanted to bring fine foods into the Jennings community so that people who live and work in the area don’t have to go far for the experience.
“Be like little kids when they eat,” Reynolds said. “They’d be humming or singing. That’s how you should feel when you eat!”
Oasis Grill is one of many black-owned restaurants in the St. Louis area featured on For the Culture STL. It’s a website and app created by St. Louis activist Ohun Ashe.
“I was heavily active in the Ferguson protests and the Jason Stockley protest,” Ashe explained. “From organizing to media and making the flyers. Once those started dying down, I had this desire to uplift black-owned businesses.”
Ashe said she was determined to understand her role moving forward. That’s when she envisioned providing the St. Louis community with an online black-owned business directory, launching ForTheCultureSTL.com. She wanted to provide one place that will link people to black-owned businesses where they live or visit, and it has links for online shopping. Since 2018, Ashe said more than 100,000 people visited her website.
“We have been seen in every single state, we have been seen in all seven continents,” she explained. “And you have to think this is something specifically for a small demographic of black people in St. Louis, yet the world uses this website.”
It’s free and Ashe said she doesn’t make money from it.
“For black folks, we haven’t really had something that is just for us; that people could support.”
Based on website analytics, Ashe discovered food in the most popular category. It’s growing to the point that restaurants are reaching out to Ashe. They are beginning to ask for their information to be added. Joe-Jo’s Fish and Chicken on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive is one of them.
“I saw what she was doing and I thought it was an excellent idea,” said Joe-Jo’s Fish & Chicken owner Byron Hayes. “We need something like For the Culture STL, where it’s a lot of young businesses and more established businesses. People who may not even know about us, if they subscribe to For the Culture or if they support it, they’ll see us in there. And they’ll hopefully be interested in what we offer and come pay us a visit!”
“I think it’s great to have a directory and something that is easily sharable,” said Reynolds.
With so many varieties of food and providing a new way for people to find what they enjoy, Ashe wants to expand.
“Into other cities, other states, so that we can have For the Culture Chicago, for the Culture Kansas City!” said Ashe. “It’s a need. People want to utilize a business that’s a different race and ethnicity.”