Metro-East News

Here’s how two bartenders bought a bar in downtown Belleville

Buying a bar wasn’t the plan.

The food and drink industry is tough. It’s hard to survive if you can’t satisfy millennial cravings for craft cocktails, IPAs — and brunch. But even in a demanding market, owning Seven Belleville has turned into a calling fulfilled for Stephanie Gain and Amanda Schlecht.

“It’s kind of kismet,” Gain said. “It found us and we found it.”

More than nine years ago, Seven opened with a simple all-American menu. Schichi Sushi Bar — the other half of the business — came four years later.

Gain managed that side of the restaurant while Schlecht served and worked behind the bar. The duo never imagined owning a bar, but their commitment to Seven made “the girls,” as customers call them, a clear choice when Brian Besse decided to let it go.

It didn’t take long for Besse to turn his longtime bartenders into bar owners. He sold the bar for an undisclosed amount of cash. The women took out loans to help pay for the restaurant located at 7 South High St.

“Save your tips,” Schlecht said with a chuckle.

Schlecht, an Althoff Catholic High School graduate, worked in sales at Macy’s before purchasing Seven with Gain. Even though Seven was her second job, she slowly became the face of the bar.

Gain had several different jobs before managing the bar.

“I’ve had many career fields,” Gain said. “From flight attendant to truck driving, to working with autistic children. When I found the restaurant industry nine years ago, something about this spoke to me. Even though I was getting my degree in horticulture, I could never walk away from working in restaurants. I just fell in love with this atmosphere.”

The former owner has turned his focus toward another business venture in the Chicago area, Gain said. But Besse will continue to be a mentor and friend to the bar.

A new look and fresh menu

An interior makeover is underway. Fresh paint, new light fixtures and sleek tables now give the bar a more modern feel, Schlecht said.

“It’s going to be more contemporary,” Gain said. “Each bar will have its own feel.”

Seven has three different spaces: sushi, classic and an upstairs bar.

The sushi side won’t change much, but Gain and Schlecht hope to make changes to almost everything else. During a grand reopening celebration Friday, patrons sampled seven new items that could be added to the menu.

Gain and Schlecht want feedback before making a commitment on new menu choices. One new item could be a smoked trout cake topped with pickled radish and onion salad and a house-made remoulade.

Brunch could become a permanent fixture on the weekend menu. When St. Louis Bread Co. left downtown, the women added a combination of breakfast and lunch to Seven’s offerings. The Bloody Mary and build-your-own mimosa bars have become favorites, Schlecht said.

In the kitchen, Gain and Schlecht want to make the menu more seasonal. Fresh herbs from their garden will be infused into recipes.

Both women love to garden.

The pastime brings them together outside of the restaurant. At work, they operate as a team, often picking up where the other leaves off. The same happens when it’s time to donate to a cause.

Still serving the community

While the bar has become their business, their passion for community service continues to grow.

The staff has collected food for local families. It also helped to raise money for the dog park at Rotary Park in downtown Belleville.

This fall, the restaurant will team up with the Belleville Area Humane Society for its annual Pedal for Pooches event. The event planned for September will include a bicycle poker run along with a live band and block party.

Seven plans to become more eco-friendly, too, Schlecht said.

The duo wants to recycle more and add a compost pile. They’ve also phased out Styrofoam to-go boxes and cups. It’s all a part of their effort to be “more than a restaurant.”

“I just don’t want it to be about us,” Gain said. “I want it be about the community. Seven is a part of something.”

Cara Anthony: 618-239-2471, @CaraRAnthony