On a recent Saturday, my wife and I took our two kids to lunch at Bloom Cafe before heading to the "Sunken Cities: Egypt's Lost Worlds" exhibit at the St. Louis Art Museum. I mention the exhibit because if you haven't gone yet (and you should go), admission is by timed-entry ticket, so in addition to the built-in challenge of dining out with a 5-year-old who is a picky eater and an 8-month-old who seems content to study his feet during a meal but could require emergency, Navy SEAL-style extrication from the table at any given moment, my wife and I needed to be confident of smooth, quick service and good, broadly appealing food.
My wife and I had met for lunch at Bloom Cafe a few days earlier, so we knew the restaurant, which opened in March immediately west of the St. Louis Science Center, would meet our criteria. On that visit, I had enjoyed a Reuben ($9.75) with tender corned beef and sauerkraut neither too wet nor too generously applied. My wife's buffalo grilled-chicken wrap ($9.25) featured piquant housemade hot sauce and tangy buttermilk-ranch dressing.
On our return visit, I tried the Pizza Press ($9.75) from the panini menu. This isn't as messy as it might sound. In fact, the Pizza Press isn't messy at all. A light dressing of marinara sauce gives it a claim to pizzahood, but it is essentially an Italian-cold-cut sandwich, with roast beef, salami and pepperoni capped by provolone and accented with banana peppers. Tender chicken, crisp bacon, avocado and an abundance of black olives distinguished my wife's Forest Park Cobb Salad ($8.75).
Our 5-year-old demolished her chicken quesadilla (from the kids menu, $5.25), though she ignored both the cup of salsa and the pickle spear that accompanied it. A picky eater, as I said. Our 8-month-old contemplated his feet.
Thus concludes the restaurant criticism that usually fills this column. I recommend Bloom Cafe wholeheartedly, but its importance transcends my blather or any star rating I could assign it. Bloom Cafe is a new venture from Paraquad, the local organization that assists people with disabilities, with an emphasis on the goal of independent living.
"The intention of Bloom Cafe is to create creative and innovative employment opportunities for people with disabilities," Paraquad president and CEO Aimee Wehmeier told me in a phone interview.
Individuals with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed as the general population, Wehmeier said. (According to a June 2018 report from the U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities in 2017 was 9.2 percent, compared to 4 percent for individuals with no disability.)
Wehmeier said the idea to build a job-training program around a restaurant resulted from one of the most pressing issues facing the local dining scene: a labor shortage.
"You can't go anywhere (to eat) without seeing a 'help wanted' sign," Wehmeier said. "(Restaurateurs) want a reliable, skilled employee to fill the void the restaurants have. It was a good fit."
Each training class at Bloom Cafe features eight to 12 students and lasts for 12 weeks. The students then proceed to an internship at Bloom Cafe or one of its partner restaurants in the area. Paraquad also helps students with resume-writing, interviewing and any other skills crucial to job placement.
Bloom Cafe's work with individuals with disabilities extends beyond the training classes and internships, Wehmeier said. Those individuals also comprise some 60 percent of the restaurant's full-time employees.
The restaurant was bustling on my visits – parking spots were scarce on a weekday – which is a small sample size, of course, but jibes with Wehmeier's own experiences.
"The most exciting thing about Bloom Cafe, I never realized how responsive the public would be," she said.
"It's a place you can go and there's seniors, college students, other people with disabilities, families. It's an eclectic group."
You should join them.
Where Bloom Cafe, 5200 Oakland Avenue – More info 314-289-4371; thebloom.cafe – Menu Sandwiches, salads and more fast-casual fare – Hours Breakfast 7-10:30 a.m. and lunch 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday