Education prepped Kara Bailey to be top of the class in the St. Louis restaurant scene

Kara Bailey

The planning and organizational skills Kara Bailey developed as an early childhood educator in the Affton School District have been instrumental in expanding Baileys’ Restaurants. Her creativity can also be seen in the design and ambiance of the restaurants. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Over the last decade, Kara Bailey has gone from lesson planning to menu planning.

Bailey and her husband Dave run Baileys’ Restaurants, operating seven restaurant concepts in St. Louis as well as event spaces and a catering company. The local culinary empire ranges in character and cuisine from the indulgent Baileys’ Chocolate Bar to Rooster – a hip brunch spot with two locations.

It’s a feat to keep one restaurant running, much less several, and it’s not something Bailey envisioned when she studied early childhood education at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

“I’ve always loved children,” she says. “I was interested in the arts as well but found that early childhood education married those interests of creativity and children.”

Bailey was student teaching and working as a nanny when she met her husband, who was managing Sasha’s Wine Bar on De Mun. Soon after they started dating, he opened Baileys’ Chocolate Bar on a shoestring budget with help from anyone he could enlist, including Bailey.

“I would student teach during the day and then go into the restaurant at night and help with everything from hosting to payroll,” Bailey says.

After graduating with her BS, Bailey worked in the Affton School District for eight years, first as a second grade teacher then as an English language learners teacher and district coordinator of the ELL program.

Gradually, her role with the restaurants evolved from helping where she could to working full time by 2011. Bailey’s touch can be seen in the design and ambiance of restaurants. She works with her sister, an interior designer, to create environments that are “comfortable and joyful.” The wall décor at Rooster’s South Grand location illustrates this – literally.

“These were all rooster images created by 3rd and 4th graders from Captain Elementary School where my mom was teaching at the time,” she says. “We had them all blown up and printed on canvas. That was a fun project for me because of my love for elementary education.”

The planning and organizational skills Bailey cultivated as an educator have proven useful as the restaurant group expands. Though those skills have been put to the test by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Mid-March we shut everything down, which was difficult,” she says.

Slowly, the Baileys started reopening restaurants one by one this past spring and summer.

Daily operations at the restaurants also pivoted to meet local restrictions and the realities of a pandemic. The Baileys’ restaurants started offering curbside pickup and patio seating where available, and Rooster began selling grocery boxes.

“We’re looking at any kind of creative way to safely provide services for guests,” Bailey says.

As for the enduring success in the industry even during difficult times, Bailey says there’s no trade secret – it’s just good food and good people.

“We want to try to provide an awesome experience,” she says. “We want to provide quality food. We want to also provide an environment where our employees can thrive and grow.”

This story was originally published in the fall 2020 issue of UMSL Magazine. If you have a story idea for UMSL Magazine, email magazine@umsl.edu.

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