Volunteer at homeless camp launches new restaurant

Volunteer at homeless camp launches new restaurant

A few years ago, a sophisticated Las Vegas restauranteur went back home to his roots, where he would help humanity, and indeed, himself.

With long years of culinary history under his belt, including a 15-year stint at MGM in Vegas, Jeff Voyles decided to do two things at once: help feed and clothe the homeless living in two camps near St. Louis, and build a dream restaurant with friends and partners on Main Street in his hometown of Belleville, IL.

copper fireFriends he’s known since kindergarten introduced him to the folks who’d become his partners in developing Copper Fire Bar & Eatery, an exciting concept restaurant set to launch its grand opening this coming St. Patrick’s Day. And, new friends, who lack the most basic necessities, would guide his efforts delivering food, socks, and other essentials to the growing homeless camps nearby.

Both efforts shape Voyles’ commitment to give back to a community where his restaurant dreams first took hold, and where he is now only days away from opening a multi-story restaurant with state-of-the-art ovens, a chef’s tasting table, mezzanine and banquet hall.

“I was born and raised in Belleville before I left to go to culinary school. I went to Vegas at age 22 and worked in all aspects of hospitality, from casinos, restaurants, and hotels,” Voyles says. “I’ve taught hospitality at universities and also got my master’s and doctoral degrees before I decided I wanted to move back home to be with family and close friends. Food and cooking was always my passion … and everything fell into place.”

Voyles describes his restaurant concept, and commitment to feeding the homeless in this week’s Q&A with Recipe for Success @ Boxerbrand.

Q: You’ve been busy since leaving Vegas to go back home.

After traveling the world and working in Vegas since I was 22, I wanted to move home to be with my family and close friends. When I came back, I knew that I wanted to be involved with cooking, food, and beverage, that’s my passion.

My mother’s side of the family is Italian, and her father was a chef for the Washington Red Skins and very well known in his day. When I came back home, I returned as someone who had gained a wealth of new ideas and experiences—I even lived in Korea and Hong Kong, in addition to my work in Vegas. And I wanted to do something special for Belleville. The area just cried out for a new restaurant.

Q: You also discovered there were homeless camps with deep needs.

About three years ago I helped start the charity Making a Difference to serve the hundreds of homeless living in two camps near St. Louis. We work with the cities and police departments to determine what the residents need, and to obtain and deliver everything from food to shoes, socks and toiletries. We have two shuttle buses we use to make deliveries. We just load up the buses, and we show up there. We never need to do fundraisers because people hear of our work, and donations pour in. I helped deliver 1,500 pairs of socks yesterday. We’re one of the few charities that actually goes to the camps and spends time with the homeless. This work is very meaningful to me and I’m very fortunate to be able to help provide help.

Q: You also felt the restaurant scene on Main Street needed help. Please explain your concept.

We’ve been planning this for two years. We’re in a 100-year-old building with four stories. We’re keeping the menu under wraps right now, but we’ll have 150 seats in the restaurant, a second-floor mezzanine with a drink rail and full bar, a banquet hall and eventually a plan to do weddings.

Because of our very unique ovens, which give us the capacity to cook anything, we have plans to create a balance of unique and trendy foods without going overboard. We’ll also offer staples that people love, like a beef wellington at affordable prices and individually bacon-wrapped meatloaf and other comfort foods. The overall quality of our food will be the component that will set us apart.

Q: How will your unique ovens play a role in the restaurant’s success?

Rather than traditional ovens, we’ll be using three unique Unox ovens, which operate by using fans, heat and a novel way of introducing humidity to the food. The ovens are so sophisticated and fail-safe that you can cook a well-done steak that retains its juice. The ovens will ensure consistency in food preparation because it’s cooked by a computer.

The oven’s efficiency will mean we can cut down on the type of food waste found in a more traditional kitchen. In another kitchen, for example, if a steak is overcooked, it’s thrown away. These ovens will cook everything perfectly the first time so food won’t be wasted.

The oven computers also track every drop of water used or energy consumed in the preparation process, so we can understand our profit margins down to the penny.

Q: What’s the best part of starting your own restaurant?

I think it’s that I have the chance to do something really special with really good people who my oldest friends introduced me to. When I came home, friends I’ve had since kindergarten introduced me to their friends Mark and Renae Eichholz and their son Brett. We came up with the concept for the restaurant together, and they’re my partners in it. Mark and Renae are business people, and will retain their respective careers. And their son Brett and I are the restaurant’s operating partners. It’s such an exciting opportunity, and I’m really fortunate to be able to work with some really good partners. We all feel really fortunate to be doing this together and we’re really looking forward to our opening on St. Patrick’s Day! —Copper Fire Bar & Eatery uses Boxerbrand menu covers in its table presentation. Thank you!

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