Ben Poremba is the St. Louis empire-builder behind 2017 hit Nixta. There, chef Tello Carreo was responsible for the Mexican dishes that landed the restaurant on the Bon Appétit Hot 10, among other best new restaurant lists. But at the Benevolent King, the newest restaurant from Bengelina Hospitality Group opening April, Poremba is back in the kitchen, and it’s personal.
The restaurant gets it name from Morocco’s late sultan Mohammed V, who famously protected the country’s Jewish community from the Nazi forces and Vichy French government during WWII. “My mother is from Morocco and my father is a Holocaust survivor so, not to be too morbid, but the subject was there,” Poremba says.
The Benevolent King’s food will reference the Moroccan side of Poremba’s family, and his mother Rachel Poremba, herself a retired chef, might “sneak in” once or twice a week to cook. But Poremba doesn’t want people to expect traditional Moroccan cuisine from his restaurant. “I’m just going to cook my food and draw on a real strong foundation when it comes to the pantry of Moroccan cooking,” Poremba says.
The menu will be concise, consisting of six or seven bar snacks and four or five larger dishes with the Moroccan flavors Poremba says he doesn’t often see in St. Louis restaurants. But the cocktail list “is going to be pretty massive,” and bar manager Tony Saputo is part of the reason Poremba wanted to open the Benevolent King in the first place. “I found a person that I really wanted to bring to our organization,” Poremba says. “I had to find a home for him.”
That home is a tiny, 28-seat, jewel box-like space in St. Louis’s Maplewood suburb. Poremba did much of the design himself, including the crown logo and a geometric motif that repeats throughout the mirror-walled room. Mismatched chairs and metallic accents capture Poremba’s impression of the current king of Morocco, whose style he describes as embodying “a real mix of regal pomp but also everyday kitsch.“
The most important thing for Poremba is that the Benevolent King has a clear sense of personality. “We’ve struggled with identity,” Poremba says and mentions Parigi, his French-accented Italian restaurant. At that restaurant, “people don’t know quite what to expect,” Poremba explains. He wants St. Louis diners to know that the Benevolent King doesn’t fit into just one box. “I just want to make sure we have a good balance of neighborhood support and that people still travel and come to eat and come to drink. We have a strong mix of all of it.”
Take a look inside the Benevolent King below:
• The Benevolent King [Official site]