ST. CHARLES, Mo. – Jodi Devonshire opened Bike Stop Cafe with her husband, Tony Caruso, in part because of their mutual love of mountain biking on the historic Katy Trail. Now, 12 years later, that same trail is helping their business survive the pandemic.
Back in the early 2000s, there weren’t many restaurants focused on health food in St. Charles, Missouri. And vegan? Forget it. But Devonshire thought there should be.
She and her friends often found themselves wanting a place to hang out and socialize after a ride along an extended stretch of the 237-mile Katy Trail. They’d want something decent to eat as well. After all, you burn a lot of calories during a bike ride for three hours or longer.
But it didn’t make sense to Devonshire that a person would put in all that hard work just to undo it by scarfing down nachos and a mound of french fries.
“Mozzarella sticks are fine, but why would you go from doing all this clean exercise and then eat a bunch of fried food? We wanted something delicious that was also healthy,” she said. “Our goal was to create something different.”
When Devonshire and Caruso opened the original location in the Frenchtown Historic District in 2010, they didn’t know what to expect. They thought the bike repair and bike rental part of their business would work; after all, they’re right next to one of the top bike and running trails in the world. But they weren’t sure about the items on their menu.
Even though the place was small back then, they didn’t know if the community would buy into veggie patties and fancy salads, like the “Off the Beaten Path” – feta, olives, almonds, beets and a fresh organic spring mix with homemade poppy-seed dressing.
Not all menu offerings are healthy, though. They bake and sell their own white, wheat and sourdough breads and treats like Gooey Butter cake, cinnamon rolls, and Bavarian-style pretzels.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the way people have been so open to more healthy eating and some of our vegetarian offerings,” Devonshire said. “This community has really embraced us from the start.”
One of those patrons is St. Charles Mayor Dan Borgmeyer who doesn’t live too far from the cafe. He said he wouldn’t call himself a regular, but he stops in from time to time.
“A lot of the bikers really appreciate the opportunity to stop there and visit and have some good food,” said Borgmeyer, who likes taking his bike off-road.
The mayor called Bike Stop Cafe “a staple in St. Charles.” He said it and other riverfront businesses are great for residents and the thousands of tourists who visit the city to take advantage of the Katy Trail.
Every year people come from all over the world to use the trail, which stretches across most of Missouri. More than half of it follows the path taken by legendary explorers Lewis and Clark up the Missouri River.
Devonshire and her husband picked the site for Bike Shop because of the Katy Trail. The couple credits the trail with helping them find immediate success.
The business outgrew its original location shortly after opening and moved into a bigger space on South Riverside Drive, just a stone’s throw from the trail. A few years ago they opened a separate bakery in Chesterfield, though they're looking for a location in St. Charles to bring it closer to the homebase.
The last few years have been a little bit of a different story for Bike Stop, though. The company has faced its fair share of challenges. It started in 2019 with intense flooding along the Missouri River and its tributaries that devastated St. Charles and other areas throughout the Midwestern United States.
For more than two years now Bike Stop, like businesses across the globe, has struggled to stay afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The food service industry has been particularly affected as many dealt with issues like social distancing.
Devonshire closed the dining room for a time earlier during the pandemic, then things started to return to normal. Adding a curbside pickup option helped a little bit.
“These past two years have been incredibly stressful,” she said. “As soon as things would improve, a new COVID variant would emerge and things would slow down again.”
Devonshire described the last five weeks as “pretty awful.”
“We're in a very weather dependent business,” she said. Most of the cafe’s seating is outdoors and right now most of it is under a foot of snow. “We very much need nice days to get business so we are anxious for spring to get here.”
Bike Stop has experienced “some recovery” in the past few months, but it stalled a bit due to “inflation,” Devonshire said. Costs have gone up on everything from gears and parts to cooking ingredients to labor.
There was a considerable surge in interest in cycling and other outdoor activities during the pandemic, but supply companies were focused on bigger clients. Devonshire said Bike Stop got stuck with “whatever was leftover.”
“We certainly didn't sell nearly as much as we could have had there not been sort of a lockdown or supply chain issues,” she added. “They tried very hard to get us all of the gear and things that we needed during this relatively brief period. But then we had another spike in COVID, and everybody locked back down again.”
Regardless, Devonshire is happy more people are getting out to enjoy something she loves.
“You certainly saw more people out on the Katy Trail and really enjoying the outdoors and biking. I'm very excited to see more of that,” she said.
Devonshire stressed that community support has been vital to them over the years, especially during the pandemic. She doesn’t mean just the people of St. Charles, but also the broader community of runners, hikers, cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts who frequent the trail.
“We couldn't have survived this long without the community,” she said. “There's been a lot of challenges, but we have a really supportive cycling and running community who’ve been in our corner.”
One of those people is Danny Williger. He’s been riding the trail – and hanging out at Bike Stop – for years. He usually gets a pesto wrap aptly named in honor of Lewis and Clark.
The 64-year-old lives in South County, about 30 miles from the Bike Stop. He’ll usually get on his bike and head to St. Charles for lunch and then back home.
Williger loves the groups that gather together there – often running groups or people out for a ride. He often overhears people talking about their rides and experiences on the trail. Some stop in after a short ride while others use it as a pit stop while traveling the full nearly 240 miles.
“Those folks are on incredible adventures. The Bike Stop offers shuttles for people who are starting their rides in different locations,” he said. “I can’t say enough about Jodi, Tony and the Bike Stop. Some of my favorite people at one of my favorite places.”
Williger said the cycling community has “really stepped up” over the past two years and tried to “maintain loyalty” to support the cafe. He sees it as a way to pay it forward to a business that is seen as ”supporting and nurturing cycling and the people who love it.”
While it’s a “destination for cyclists,” it’s not not just a bike-friendly restaurant, Williger said. He called it a neighborhood hangout for “healthy meals and snacks, casually beautiful surroundings and nice people.”
Devonshire is choosing to remain optimistic. She said she expects things to turn around once the “pandemic is in our rear view mirror."
“I think we are luckier than most. We have an amazing staff and a supportive community,” she added. “We are proud to have made it this far and look forward to what’s to come.”