Rob Connoley Source: Facebook

Out Award-winning St. Louis Chef Closes Restaurant over State's Homophobic Policies


Rob Connoley returned home to St. Louis from New Mexico in 2017 with hopes of opening a restaurant "not knowing how my culinary chops would stack up," he writes on Facebook. "An intense inferiority complex came with me," only adding to the pressure to succeed.

He opened the Bulrush STL in his hometown in 2019. But on Sunday, June 23, Connoley closed the award-winning restaurant, located at 3307 Washington Ave. in Midtown St. Louis, reports Sauce Magazine.

Connoley announced the closure on the restaurant's Instagram feed on June 25. "Describing the restaurant as a 'professional dream' that allowed him to blend his passion for social advocacy, research and food into a unique restaurant project, Connoley also acknowledged the hospitality professionals who he has worked with along the way and hailed Bulrush STL's achievement in 'playing our part in shining the national culinary spotlight on St. Louis'," the Sauce report continues.

It wasn't, he wrote on Facebook, an economic decision. "I have become uneasy promoting a state that is actively working to harm the LGBTQ community, especially the trans community. As an owner of a reparative restaurant working to make amends for the harms of the past, I can not continue supporting my own oppressor.

"Attorney General Bailey has stated he is doing this for the safety of the children, but this is simply election-year hate politics at its worst. We know this when we look at the lack of action on Missouri's infant mortality, poverty, or childhood health rates. Missouri ranks the 4th worst state for child education, yet Attorney General Bailey instead chooses to focus on destroying the intimate relationship between a trained medical doctor and a patient. True action doesn't garner votes – speaking from the bully pulpit does."

He continues: "This is not a decision I have made lightly. I have spent over a year hoping to see the state correct its course and move on from the political games, but they haven't. My greatest sadness is that I love St Louis more than I can express and have such admiration and fondness for the Ozark region and its people – people who have time and time again, proven to me to be hospitable and loving of all."

He adds: "I don't know what will be next for me personally, but my belief in creating an equitable world for all is surely going to be a part of that decision."

"Bulrush STL opened in 2019, and was named No. 3 among Sauce's Best New Restaurants of that year (behind only Indo and Elmwood)," adds Sauce. "Addressing Bulrush's legacy, Connoley's statement cited the restaurant's zero waste efforts, as well as its 'obsessive' local sourcing, which he asserted is 'a gift, not a cost.' Bulrush's menus were derived from Connoley's research-driven exploration of the cuisine of the Ozarks, and his closure announcement reaffirmed the convictions that drove the restaurant's mission."

"We can honor those people and cultures who have come before us, and are at the heart of everything we do in modern kitchens," the statement said. "I will continue to believe in business-led reparations, and have demonstrated one model for successfully doing so."

In April Connoley was a first-time finalist in the Best Chef: Midwest competition of the 2024 James Beard Foundation Awards, the top prize of the culinary world, but did not advance to the finals in June.

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