Photograph by Scott Rovak
Jimmy Baseball’s out to prove that it takes more than a good name to score in dining
Boy, you gotta have balls to open a restaurant if you’re an athlete. Of course, in pro sports—where the only thing bigger than the salaries are the egos—this is not a problem. The problem is that you need to commit: We’ll forgive you for occasionally dogging it on the field, as long as you put up numbers that justify that eight-figure salary, but dog it as a restaurateur—like by lending your valuable name and not a lot else, just to make a buck—and we’ll turn on you like a fair-weather fan.
That’s exactly what Jim Edmonds is up against right now. By opening Fifteen—the swanky new multistory restaurant/nightclub in the 1900 block of Locust—late last month, the Cardinals’ four-time All-Star center fielder risks becoming yet another successful local athlete to bomb in the restaurant biz. But then again, if anyone would seem to know a thing or two about hospitality, it’s the club-hopping Edmonds: “I’ve been all around the world and seen a bunch of different places,” he says. Also working in his favor: He seems to know the score. “I don’t understand how you can put your name on something just to put your name on it,” he says. “If it doesn’t work, you look bad.”
As it turns out, no one will be able to accuse him of not getting involved in the restaurant named for his jersey number.
1. Jim has wanted to do this for a while
Fifteen is about five years in the making. It wasn’t long after Edmonds joined the Cardinals in 2000 and befriended a Lafayette Pub bartender named Mark Winfield (who would eventually introduce Edmonds to his current girlfriend and the mother of his son Landon) that he started pestering the former boxer to partner with him on a bar of their own. “Most of the people who were there were friends or acquaintances,” Edmonds says. “He had a following.” Winfield didn’t take the idea seriously until last fall—he’d been a part-owner of Lafayette’s for a couple of years by then—when he decided that it was time to try something new. “I asked Jimmy if he was still interested in opening that place he’d always talked about, and he said, ‘Find a building,’” Winfield says. “So we started looking.”
2. Jim actually just wanted to open a nightclub
If you find yourself in the dining room at Fifteen, take a look out those floor-to-ceiling windows and across the street at the nondescript building to the right of Panama Red’s. That’s where Edmonds and Winfield had originally wanted to enter the hospitality game—back when they were only interested in running a bar. That changed pretty quickly when they opted instead to buy the much larger, three-story space that would become Fifteen. “We went from buying a little 3,000-square-foot building to this 21,000-square-foot building,” Edmonds says in early August, shaking his head as he stands inside the half-finished space. They decided early on to turn the third floor into office space (sportscaster Tim McKernan moved his InsideSTL.com operation there in September), but that still left 14,000 square feet, which made food service inevitable. “Night and day,” Winfield says of the difference between he and Edmonds’ original concept and what they ended up with.
3. Jim didn’t want to have anything to do with it at first
After offering his input on the business model in the most general of senses—it would be a bar/restaurant, as opposed to, say, a bakery—Edmonds initially had no interest in the building on Locust beyond its investment potential and what it could do for his friend. That didn’t last long: Edmonds was in for half, and he quickly had visions of other not-so-well-received restaurants with athlete investors. “I figure if I’m spending the money, I might as well have a little bit of input,” he says. To Winfield’s credit, he says that was the reason for splitting the ownership evenly. “I wanted him to take some ownership not only in the financial side but also in the work side of it.”
4. Jim absolutely, positively did not want one piece of sports memorabilia anywhere in Fifteen
Yes, Edmonds is a 50-percent owner, and yes, he plays baseball, but that’s just his day job—he’s not interested in turning the restaurant into a shrine to himself. (The name Fifteen—an inside joke about his habit for offering up his house as a late-night party spot by saying, “Club Fifteen is open”—is the only overt reference to his profession.) In fact, he and Winfield debated whether to publicize his involvement in the project at all. “I didn’t want people to come in here just because I own the bar,” Edmonds says. “We want people to come here and enjoy it and want to come back.”
5. Jim doesn’t want you to leave ... ever
“What happens at Fifteen, stays at Fifteen” might as well be the restaurant’s slogan, what with all the Vegas influence, but “Once you get to Fifteen, you stay at Fifteen” might be even more appropriate. Inspired in part by the similarly numerical N9ne Steakhouse in Chicago and Las Vegas that’s equal parts restaurant and club, the idea was to lure people inside with food and get them to stay for booze. “Like your favorite restaurant and favorite bar—we wanted to have them in the same spot,” Edmonds says. (As for what that “all ours, all night” concept might mean for his high-profile nightlife neighbors, Nectar and Pepper, Winfield just says, “They’re excited about having us down here, and I’m excited about feeding off their business.”)
6. Jim wanted a place that was close to work
Edmonds never considered setting up shop west of Skinker, and Winfield would like to make something very clear about one unfortunate consequence of that decision: They weren’t out to steal business from Bar Napoli. The Clayton late-night spot has become a post-game hangout for hungry Cards, but now that a Redbird has a place of his own within a Pujols moonshot of Busch Stadium, there’s as much of a chance that his teammates will drive out to the county to eat as there is that Mark McGwire will fess up to juicing. And catering to the schedule of the spikes-and-stirrups set will pay off for the non-athletes, too: The kitchen will stay open to everyone—albeit with a smaller menu—until 3 a.m.
7. Jim has an inner interior decorator
Who knew that the guy with a reputation for plowing into walls would have an interest in designing them, too? That curved wall that greets diners as they walk into the lobby was one of a handful of “look and feel” ideas that the All-Star center fielder had for Fifteen. Even the concept for the tables in the dining room—made out of repurposed hardwood flooring from the building’s basement—was Edmonds’ own. But don’t expect to see him opening an Interiors by Edmonds design firm just yet; not all of his ideas were hits. Halfway through the project, he suggested filling the upstairs lounge area with beds. It’s been done before, at Miami’s aptly named club Bed, but Winfield just wasn’t feeling the romper-room vibe: “What happens if we have someone who wants to do dinner for 300 up there?”
8. Jim will be busing tables
OK, that’s not exactly true. As much as some fans might like to see Edmonds pay his penance for an 0-4 night at the ballpark by doing some grunt work, you probably won’t see him wiping down tables—but he claims to understand the need to interact with his patrons. “I said, ‘Jimmy, if you see someone is out of water and you pick up a pitcher and fill up their glass, you have no idea what that would mean for business,’” Winfield says. “And he gets it.”
9. Jim wants you to hear the music. He’d like you to see it, too
Like a lot of guys his age, Edmonds thinks the music has just gotten too loud. (It’s OK, Jimmy—your hearing will go soon enough, and you won’t have to worry about that anymore.) But a significant portion of Fifteen’s square footage is devoted to either nightclub or lounge concepts, so the music’s going to have to sort of be loud, right? “We tried to add a lot of speakers so it can be crisp enough that people can hear it without it blowing everyone away,” he says. But just in case that doesn’t solve things, the music will be accompanied by videos, so maybe you’ll be able to read the artist’s lips.
10. Jim would also like you to be able to pee
Maybe the “potty parity” debacle at the new Busch Stadium left a lasting impression—or maybe, like the rest of us, he’d just rather not spend half of his night dancing on line—but at any rate, Edmonds made easy access to the facilities a priority by insisting on having 16 toilets for guys and girls: “I hate going into a place where you can’t get into the bathroom.”
11. Jim is not afraid to spend some money
That outdoor bar that serves the massive, 24- by 180-foot patio and will probably get a lot more use next spring as the 2008 season starts? Not in the budget. Those swanky high-back booths in the upstairs lounge that are upholstered in fabric that Winfield and interior designer Scott Thorberg found in Los Angeles’ Garment District? Not in the budget. That 14-foot waterfall in the middle of the staircase just inside the main entrance that looks like it belongs in the Bellagio? Most definitely not in the budget. And that’s why it pays—literally—to partner with a guy who’ll pull down an $8 million salary next year. “We didn’t want to end up like other places in town, where you’ve got
$10 million into it,” Winfield says, “but these were things we felt that we needed and that Jimmy insisted on doing.”
12. Jim doesn’t like it when people dress like thugs
Ladies, unless you tend to wear cargo shorts, baggy T-shirts and flip-flops to go out at night, you can skip this one. (And if you do, you’ve got more important things to think about than whether or not to frequent Jim Edmonds’ new restaurant, so you can probably just skip the rest of this article.) Edmonds’ frequent trips to Las Vegas—where nice jeans, a collared shirt and dress shoes make up the standard going-out uniform for guys—convinced him to institute a similar dress code at Fifteen. And guys, before you start to complain, your old buddy Jim is just looking out for you: “I’ve always heard that the better people dress, the better they act. We want people to be here and be safe.”
13. Jim would prefer that you take the cigarette outside
It’s a California thing. The former Anaheim Angel didn’t even think twice about banning smoking in the building (“There’s nights where you come home and almost have to get in the shower before you go to bed,” Edmonds says), but he left the patio a safe haven for smokers. He and Winfield even included a second-floor deck so no one would have to go downstairs to light up, but don’t blame them if it gets a little crowded out there: They wanted to make it 60 feet by 24 feet, but the city wouldn’t go for anything bigger than 30 by 10.
14. Jim likes simple food, but he’s OK with fancy stuff, too
To say that the menu has evolved is to say that the Cardinals hit some rough patches this season. First it was going to be bar food (“Burgers, fries, chicken strips,” Winfield says), and then it was going to be nice but simple food (“Chicken, ribs, steak,” Edmonds says). But then consulting chef Josh Roland, brought in to develop the menu and oversee the kitchen for the first few months, started flexing his culinary guns. Roland, who’s worked for Gordon Ramsay in the U.K. and as a sous chef at the four-star Jean Georges in New York, kept the steak, but added items that were just quirky enough, like creamless creamed corn and a toasted-sausage dumpling with a tomato jam. “I think we underestimated his power,” Edmonds says. And don’t worry about the menu reverting to bar food once Roland leaves: Self-professed “culinary warrior” Tim McLaughlin, formerly of Faust’s and Red Moon, has been tapped to fill the void.
15. Jim is always watching you
So keep your hand out of the tip jar. Thanks to an 18-camera, Web-enabled CCTV security system, Edmonds will be logging on and looking in at what’s going on at the restaurant, whether he’s on the road in Chicago or San Diego. “If I tell him that we’ve got a thousand people in here,” Winfield says, “he can look and say, ‘Wait a minute, I only see 200.’” “Don’t let him fool you,” Edmonds says with a laugh. “He’s the one who wants to keep an eye on people.”