Craig Rivard attended culinary school in Hyde Park, New York, worked at well-known restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and developed an even deeper love for food and dining while traveling through Europe with his wife, Mowgli. However, if you ask him to trace the roots of his restaurant career to its original source, they lead back to his teenage years, working one of his first jobs at a restaurant in west St. Louis County. In this sense, opening his debut restaurant, Little Fox, back in his hometown feels like he’s come full circle.
“We would often travel back, visit family, and keep an eye on the food scene here and what was going on,” Craig says. “We were genuinely just really excited about what was going on in St. Louis and eventually, we wanted to be a part of that.”
When the Rivards moved back to St. Louis in 2017 to open Little Fox, they joined a growing group of transplants or in Craig’s case, “boomerangs,” who see the Gateway City as a place filled with opportunities for entrepreneurs of all kinds. Though originally drawn to town by a lower cost of living and business startup costs, these aspiring business owners find much more than cheaper rents when they arrive in town; they come to experience St. Louis’ innovation ecosystem as a supportive, collaborative and collegial environment that eases the angst that comes with starting a venture while helping to bolster their chances for success.
It’s exactly the sort of environment the Rivards were looking for when they began talking about opening a restaurant while they were still living in New York, but one that just wasn’t there on the East Coast thanks to its high startup costs and more cutthroat restaurant environment. Still, they loved so much about life in Brooklyn. There was the walkability factor of their neighborhood, the feeling of community in the burrough’s individual neighborhoods and the world-class food scene that rewarded creativity and culinary innovation. They worried that moving back to Craig’s hometown might mean losing all of those things.
They’d come to see that just wasn’t the case. Over the years when the Rivards would come back to town to visit Craig’s family, they began to realize that what they wanted both personally and professionally could be found in St. Louis just as well as in New York. Impressed with the architecture and walkability of neighborhoods like Benton Park and Fox Park and taken with just how invested neighbors were in their communities, they knew that St. Louis would be a wonderful place to plant their roots. Additionally, they watched the city’s food scene go from growing to exploding; this, coupled with the proximity to some of the best produce and agricultural products in the country, meant that they could open exactly the sort of restaurant they’d dreamed of over the years.
“I think it was seeing people willing to come to the city to dine and people caring about the city itself,” Craig says about his and Mowgli’s motivation for moving back to his hometown. “That, and seeing people really with a finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the rest of the United States, seeing what’s going on in larger cities, but doing something cool here.”
While the Rivards had a built-in support structure from family and a welcoming hospitality community, Danielle Deavens and Doug Spencer, founders of the corporate gifting platform Bold Xchange, found success in their adopted hometown thanks to a more formal welcoming committee: Arch Grants. As members of the St. Louis entrepreneurship competition and incubator’s 2020 cohort, Deavens and Spencer were able to move their burgeoning business from Charlotte, North Carolina, to its new home in the heart of the Grove neighborhood, with the necessary support system that would allow them to grow their business into the national brand it has become.
“If it wasn’t for Arch Grants, we probably would not be in St. Louis,” says Spencer. “At the time we received the grant, I was in law school, so it didn’t really matter where I was for law school in 2020, because classes were virtual. So I left Washington D.C. and I went to Charlotte, where Danielle was located. And then we were continuing to think about, well, what’s the home going to be for Bold Xchange? Is it Charlotte or is it going to be somewhere else? And then when we received an Arch Grant, it was a no-brainer that we were going to decide to relocate from Charlotte to St. Louis…It made the transition a lot easier than it would’ve been if we didn’t feel like we had a support system in place.”
Deavens and Spencer founded Bold Xchange in North Carolina in 2020, four years after Deavens challenged herself to buy holiday gifts for friends and family exclusively from Black-owned businesses and became frustrated by what she describes as a clunky and disjointed experience. Though she and Spencer were not planning on becoming entrepreneurs – she was a journalism graduate with a successful writing career and Spencer had a business background and was in law school – the partners felt compelled to put their talents together to help Black-owned businesses gain a stronger foothold in the marketplace. At first, it started as a passion project, but eventually, they realized they needed to put the full force of their energy into a business if they wanted to have a meaningful impact. As their business grew, so did their desire to find the right home for it. The more they learned about St. Louis, the more it made sense for them.
“When we first applied to Arch Grants, we were in an accelerator program and were doing that virtually in Charlotte, North Carolina, but we were also on a slow hunt for the forever home for our business,” Deavens says. “As we learned more and more about St. Louis, we planned to apply for Arch Grants and were just excited about what was happening here – the diversity of the startup ecosystem here, but also the opportunity for us to move to a place that was affordable for us and affordable for our business to actually have a boots-on-the-ground presence. We knew we needed to move the business out of our home, and this was just such a great opportunity for us to take the next step in a lot of ways.”
Deavens and Spencer are certain that they made the right call when relocating Bold Xchange to St. Louis. Since coming to town, their business has been able to firmly plant its flag in the corporate gifting space, beginning with a partnership with Home Depot in 2021 and growing to include projects with other major corporate players like Centene Corporation, CarMax, State Farm and Capital One, as well as smaller firms like Steady MD, Venture for America and even Arch Grants itself.
The Rivards, too, have achieved more than they could imagine with Little Fox. Not only has the restaurant become a beloved part of the St. Louis food scene, it has received national acclaim in the form of a spot on the New York Times’ list of the 50 restaurants they were most excited about for 2021. The nod – as well as their thriving business – serves as a beacon for others who might choose to move to town.
“While opening a restaurant is absolutely one of the scariest things you can do, and just the biggest risk, people here will support it,” Mowgli says. “It’s pretty amazing how we keep on getting more and more restaurants, but it seems like there’s enough to go around and people just really love to spend money at restaurants, and so that makes you feel good about the future of the restaurants here.”
Deavens and Spencer echo this sentiment, noting that their relocation to St. Louis has been as good for them personally as professionally. They have been thrilled with the community they’ve found in their Downtown West neighborhood and Bold Xchange’s home in the Grove, they’ve been pleasantly surprised with all the green space and outdoor activities the area has to offer, and they’ve been absolutely smitten with St. Louis’ restaurant game, including one of their favorites, Little Fox. In their mind, the supportive startup ecosystem and the bustling arts, entertainment and culinary scene are two sides of the same coin – one in which everyone is invested in creating a world-class place to work and live.
“The thing that is most exciting to me about living in St. Louis is that everyone you meet here seems to be interested in working together to create this even brighter future for the city,” Deavens says. “That’s not something I experienced in New York. It wasn’t really something I experienced in Charlotte, though when I got there, I thought that might be what was happening as this up-and-coming city. But in St. Louis, more than any other place I’ve learned about even, there’s this real need and excitement about all the things that are happening – not just the projects that are now starting, but also the foundation that had already been built for that.”
Join the Story
- Learn more about Bold Xchange and Little Fox.
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