Critic's Notebook: How Lauren "Lulu" Loomis Turned a Successful Food Truck Into Restaurant
When Lauren "Lulu" Loomis and her husband Robert Tucker arrived on an organic farm in New Zealand, they were asked an important question: What do you want to learn?
"Everything," Loomis answered without hesitation. "We want to learn everything."
Loomis and Tucker got what they asked for. During their time working in Kiwi country as part of the WWOOF program (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) the pair learned everything from beekeeping to homesteading to how to brew beer. The education inspired them to bring back what they learned to the U.S.
"I used to be work in human resources in downtown Chicago," Loomis recalls. "I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I was sort of lost. Robert was working as a professional jazz musician at night, and we never saw one another. We decided to do something crazy. I went to New Zealand to learn how to grow my own food, and I ended up finding my life's work."
Loomis and Tucker hatched the idea for Lulu's Local Eatery (3201 South Grand Boulevard; 314-357-7717) while in New Zealand. The original concept was for a sit-down eatery. However, when the two came to St. Louis to visit Tucker's family (he is a St. Louis native; she is from Minnesota), they found inspiration at Food Truck Friday in Tower Grove Park.
"It never crossed our minds to do a food truck," explains Loomis. "But when we saw them at the park, it instantly hit us that this was the way to go." Loomis cites the lower start-up costs for food trucks than brick-and-mortar restaurants as the main reason for their decision to go that route.
Today, Loomis and Tucker find themselves closer to their original vision with their new location on South Grand Boulevard. "We've been lucky enough to have built quite a following over the last two years," says Loomis. "We outgrew out space [at St. Patrick's Center]. I had so many ideas for menu items, and we just couldn't execute them out of our old space. I was looking for a place where I could let my creativity run wild."
Now, with Lulu's Local Eatery in a permanent storefront (the food truck is still going strong), Loomis can run out to her patio garden and come up with specials based on what produce is ready. It keeps her connected to the food -- the importance of which she learned while WWOOFing in New Zealand. "I learned all about sustainability and how to care for things for their entire life cycles," says Loomis. "It's important for me to share that with people. At the new space, we can really connect people with their food. They get to dine outside, in the garden where a lot of their food comes from. It's growing all around them, and they're totally immersed. That's the best part of our new place."