Feature, Ladue News, February 24, 2017
By Allison Babka
Photos by Cheryl Waller
Surprisingly, it’s comforting vanilla -- not lemon -- that our nose first detects upon entering Lemon Gem Kitchen Goods. But everything else in St. Louis’ newest boutique culinary store is as fresh as the fruit for which it’s named.
With its combination of curated, high-quality inventory and enchanting charm, Lemon Gem is poised to become the next breakout business in The Grove, an increasingly popular shopping and dining district. Owner Beth Styles says that since opening in November, Lemon Gem has seen steady sales that have far exceeded her expectations.
“I had trouble keeping up with everyone!” Styles says of the shop’s first holiday season. “We’ve had a lot of people who have shared that they’re really excited to have a kitchen store in the neighborhood and that it’s something that had been missing.”
Located in the building that formerly housed Rise Coffee House (which relocated to larger digs next door), Lemon Gem fits in perfectly, enticing passersby with can’t-miss, yellow-framed picture windows that offer a glimpse of the store’s treasures. Inside, with its black-and-white tile, colorful products and abundance of natural light, Lemon Gem is a foodie’s favorite Instagram photo come to life.
On the practical side, it’s easy to understand why Lemon Gem is so popular; the store is a growing destination for experienced and novice culinary creators alike. Chefs and bakers both get their due here, and Lemon Gem carries a variety of essentials from big brands as well as from local and regional names at all price points. In one trip, a shopper could easily pick up a 12-inch Cuisinart skillet, a rolling pin handmade by local woodworker Collin Garrity and a small-press booklet featuring recipes centered around one subject, like honey or broccoli.
Styles has even curated a corner of the shop for the city’s youngest chefs and bakers, gathering together colorful aprons, adorable and kid-friendly cookie cutters and tiny tools to welcome little ones to their new favorite hobby.
“My nieces are both 4, and they love trying to help cook, so I thought it would be fun to have things that kids can actually cook with,” Styles says. “If mom’s making muffins, she can give a little batter to her child so that they can make their own mini-muffins right alongside her.”
Styles says that her own love of baking was shaped by family members.
“I have a couple of cookbooks that were my great-grandmother’s; they’re not in great condition because she used the heck out of them, but the cool thing is that they have all these little handwritten notes,” Styles says. “And my Aunt Gloria was a big baker and also liked to sew, so I have a handful of aprons that she made. A lot of them are themed for holidays, and I remember her wearing some of them.”
But along with the tools and treasures for sale in the store, Styles envisions Lemon Gem as a true community resource for people who love food and cooking. She’s been busy arranging a variety of workshops and partnering with local businesses on future events that highlight the joy that can be found in your kitchen. Upstairs, Styles plans to expand Lemon Gem’s charming library and meeting space, which already features cookbooks along with large, cozy chairs and a children’s play nook.
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Lemon Gem has truly become the neighborhood destination that Styles has always wanted, and as is often the case, it wouldn’t have happened without a little frustration. Calling herself a longtime “stress baker,” Styles realized that she was missing her lemon tart pan one day shortly after moving into her new home in the city. Unfortunately, she found no locally owned kitchen supply stores within the city limits, and faraway big-box stores don’t always stock the tools a baker needs. Styles had already been thinking about opening her own shop to fill that neighborhood niche, so when Rise made its move and its former building became available, she knew it was time to make Lemon Gem a reality.
“The space is exactly what I had in mind,” Styles says. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of the business owners here, and you can tell that everyone is really passionate about The Grove and are really supportive of one another. I’m excited about the momentum that The Grove has right now and that we get to be part of that.”
Lemon Gem isn’t Styles’ first step into small-business ownership; she also owns Parsimonia, a curated vintage clothing and accessories shop on South Grand Boulevard. She says that both Lemon Gem and Parsimonia indulge her love of pairing history (timeless tools and recipes and vintage style) with modern design and trends.
“I definitely have a preoccupation with things that are not from this age,” Styles says. “I double-minored in psychology and sociology [in college], and there’s a sociological side of it that’s really interesting to me to connect with a time from way before I was born.”
Styles also notes that Lemon Gem and Parsimonia both offer items that are built to last, no matter if it’s a stockpot or a dress.
“Things might have been a little more expensive, but people bought them with the intention of using them until they couldn’t anymore, and I just feel like a lot of that has been lost today,” she says. “Now, people are just buying stuff and quickly getting rid of it. So there’s a part of me that feels like we’re helping to preserve a part of history in a fun way.”