LuxLiving Takeout Challenge offers 21 area restaurants cash grants in partnership with Hamilton Hospitality

When the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, nobody knows exactly how the restaurant industry will rebound. In talking to restaurants owners across St. Louis, many say that they expect curbside pickup and takeout orders to continue in abundance well beyond the pandemic.

That idea is now inspiring a new fundraising challenge for local restaurants, the LuxLiving Takeout Challenge, sponsored by real-estate developer LuxLiving as a way to give back to the St. Louis restaurant community. Developed in partnership with Hamilton Hospitality, the challenge will pit 21 local restaurants against one another to see who can claim top honors in three takeout categories: most creative fine-dining, international, and casual dishes.

LuxLiving president Vic Alston realizes how much restaurants contribute to the lifeblood of a city: “We are super invested in St. Louis,” he says, “and restaurants are so important to our neighborhoods and communities. We need to see them back and thriving. There is a growing food culture in this town and it’s exciting to make that a part of our new communities in Soulard, the Central West End, University City, and all over town.” 

The list of restaurants will be finalized tomorrow, says John Dalton, director of sales for Hamilton Hospitality, and the competition will unfold during the first week of May.

“I think the reality for most restaurants here in the next few weeks or months is going to be how to do takeout well,” Dalton says. “I think this is going to test them. I’m a chef by trade, and I think if I was going to make you something for a contest and cook in front of you and serve you, I’d make one thing, but if it was going in a box and then a car for 15 or 20 minutes and then someone is going to open this box and eat it 10 minutes later, I’d make something totally different. So that’s the real kicker to the whole thing.”

Each of the 21 participating restaurants will receive a $1,000 cash grant just for participating, while first and second place winners in each of the three categories will receive additional cash grants. In total, LuxLiving will award more than $30,000 to area restaurants through the challenge.

Chefs can prepare whatever dishes they feel best represent the categories, with only one restriction: Fine-dining orders must be made with no more than $20 of ingredients in each box, while casual concept and international dishes are limited to $10 of ingredients per box.

“So that way someone can’t throw in a Kobe steak, you know?” Dalton laughs. “And $20 is incredibly generous as far as what they can spend.”

Dishes will be judged by two local industry experts, Cheryl Baehr, restaurant critic at the Riverfront Times, and chef Jon Wiltse of Sysco Foodservice, who will convene at Hamilton Hospitality’s Moulin event space in Lafayette Square to blind taste each dish. “There will be no names and no logos, so the judges don’t know who is delivering this food,” Dalton adds.

The first round of judging will focus on takeout from casual concepts on May 4, with international orders judged on May 5, and the final category, fine-dining, on May 6. After judging has closed for the three rounds, a mystery judge will award the top-level grants on May 7.

If you’re curious to see how the judges respond to each dish, tune in to see the challenge unfold live via the LuxLiving Takeout Challenge Facebook page or on LuxLiving’s website. The Facebook page will also be updated in the days before the challenge begins to share videos and updates about the competition.

Dalton says helping to organize the challenge has been rewarding for him and the Hamilton Hospitality team. He praises LuxLiving for committing to award some $30,000 to area restaurants, and is thrilled that his colleagues at Hamilton can help make it happen.

“Chefs want to cook,” Dalton says. “That’s what they want to do. When I talked to chefs, I told them, ‘I want you to put your all in this and get excited about it,’ but really, this is the $1,000 takeout; if a normal takeout order is $25, this is a $1,000 meal you’re putting in a box. This puts just a little bit of money in everyone’s pocket, and I hope the Facebook updates are a bright spot in people’s day.”