Chris LaRocca is the founding partner and proprietor of EdgeWild Restaurant & Winery. With more than 30 years of experience, the veteran restaurateur and celebrated innovator has drawn inspiration from his love of wine and insight on local tastes to partner with co-owners Andy and Dee Dee Kohn to create EdgeWild-a modern casual restaurant serving inventive American cuisine with a bonded winery onsite.
Chris oversaw the entire implementation of EdgeWild’s opening from construction and décor to management personnel and menu selection. He liaisons with the ownership, works hand-in-hand with general manager Todd Wyatt on the daily operations and collaborates closely with executive chef Aaron Baggett on EdgeWild’s menu and culinary development.
Opening, developing and managing restaurants are nothing new for Chris. It can be said that his knack for excellence in the restaurant industry runs in his blood. He began working in his father’s St. Louis restaurant when he was 9 years old, moving his way up to server and then manager, learning the ins and outs of the restaurant business by the time he was 18. He began his professional career in 1982 as unit manager for El Torito Mexican Restaurants and quickly accelerated to regional operator, overseeing 22 dinner houses and managing $53 million in annual sales.
Chris’ career made local headlines in 1993 when he founded St. Louis’ first cross-cultural restaurant Crazy Fish. In just 10 years, Crazy Fish expanded to three successful locations, launched two catering companies and won such awards as Most Creative Menu Award (1998) by the Missouri Restaurant Association, Best St. Louis Décor Award (1994) by St. Louis Magazine, Best Plate Presentation (1997, 1998, 1999) and Best Eclectic Dining (2000) by the St. Louis People’s Choice Committee. The Missouri Restaurant Association honored Chris with the Restaurateur of the Year Award in 1999.
In 1996 Chris founded and developed Tomatillo Mexican Grill-the first wrap concert in St. Louis. It quickly converted to a fast casual Fresh Mexican concept in 1998 and expanded to six successful locations thereafter. In 2000, Tomatillo Mexican Grill won the Best New Concept Award from the St. Louis People’s Choice Committee. Chris also served as the director of franchise operations for RomaCorp, Inc., where he supervised the operations of 28 full service restaurants in the U.S., South America and the Caribbean with $56 million in sales. He also developed and opened a new Tony Roma’s Fast & Casual and Tony Roman’s Rib Express prototype.
There’s a not a day that passes when Chris isn’t working on the development of a restaurant. This is even truer with his more recent business venture Culinary Architects-a unique, full service restaurant development and management company that specializes in partnering with aspiring restaurant owners and businesses requiring a restaurant operation. Founded in 2005, Culinary Architects has already successfully opened such restaurants as Sage Urban American Grill in Soulard, Triumph Grill in Midtown and Kota Wood Fire Grill in Grand Center.
What has been the biggest highlight of opening EdgeWild? What has been the biggest challenge?
The biggest highlight has been bringing a fresh concept to St. Louis that is unlike any other in our city. The biggest challenge is for me not to get too adventurous with the approach to the menu. The focus is wine, so I have to tread lightly and think creatively and specifically about wine infusion and wine pairing.
What is it like working with executive chef Aaron Baggett?
It’s like working with a food scientist. Aaron is incredibly knowledgeable about the history and use of every single ingredient. He is patient in hearing my ideas and takes them to an entirely different level. I also work with Jason Tilford, who has been my go-to consultant over the years. He has also contributed greatly to the development of the restaurant.
What’s your favorite dish at EdgeWild?
A tie between Kahlua Buns and Banana White Chocolate Bread Pudding.
What is your favorite wine(s)?
Rich Uncle Reserve Cabernet.
Who has inspired you the most in your career?
My parents. They taught me a strong work ethic, which has been at the root of all my successes.
If you could develop a restaurant for anyone in the world, who would it be and what would be the concept?
Danny Meyer… and the concept is a secret. Sorry.
What is your personal philosophy?
Respect everyone. I always say that people work with me instead of for me. My dad taught me to show respect and acknowledge people regardless of their job, title or position.
What is your favorite hobby?
I love going to cities like Las Vegas or New York and hitting up a dozen restaurants in a day, sitting at the bar and ordering appetizers and drinks. I just love sizing them up, taking pictures and then moving on to the next one. I guess my hobby is work and learning about other restaurants. And, when I’m in Vegas I like to get in a little gambling and sit at the blackjack table.