Photo by Theo Tate
The Garden Gate Tea Room has been in business since October 2000.
Each month, the Southwestern Madison County Chamber of Commerce recognizes the efforts and accomplishments of the small businesses and corporations that do so much for Granite City and the surrounding area.
July is dedicated to food service and production, and with a variety of restaurants, shops and food service facilities scattered throughout the region, it is the perfect time to reflect on some recent accomplishments (along with some great-tasting dishes).
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Fifteen years ago, Brenda Whitaker was a steelworker.
Now, she’s the owner of Garden Gate Tea Room at 839 Niedringhaus. The restaurant will celebrate its 15th anniversary in October.
“We’ll be in business for 15 years, so we did something right,” she said. “It’s almost mind-boggling because it doesn’t feel like 15 years. Then, I look back and see what has been accomplished in the 15 years since it began and I’m proud of it.”
Whitaker worked for National Steel when she came up with an idea of opening up a restaurant.
“I wanted to do something a little more creative, so I was interested in the food industry,” she said.
Whitaker worked as a steelworker and the owner of Garden Gate Tea Room for two years before she decided to concentrate on the restaurant full time in 2002.
“The first year was always difficult and that’s why I chose to stay on my current job at that time as a steelworker,” Whitaker said. “I knew I couldn’t just rely on the restaurant for the first two years, so that’s why I continued to work both so I can keep putting the money back into the business to make sure it can survive.”
The Garden Gate Tea Room is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and has extended hours from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Its menu includes the lobster bisque and French onion soup, seafood stuffed mushrooms, the chicken salad sandwich and the pecan crusted salmon with roasted pepper sauce and 12 kinds of salads.
The restaurant also allows children to schedule tea parties and they can be booked for any Saturday. The restaurant also can be used to schedule private events for 20 to 50 guests.
The Garden Gate Tea Room is one of eight food services in the Granite City area being recognized for the Madison County Chamber of Commerce member recognition month for July. The others are Prairie Farms Dairy, Lee’s Chicken, Panera Bread, Denny’s, Grey Eagle, Kraft Foods and Ravanelli’s Restaurant.
Ravanelli’s began in Granite City in 1964 and has another location in Collinsville. The menu includes its famous pressure fried chicken, pasta and salads.
“We do plan on growing our catering business,” said Steve Edwards, who has been owner of Ravanelli’s since 1998. “We do full-service catering and we always have, and it’s our biggest growth as part of our restaurant.”
The Kraft Heinz Granite City plant opened in 1991. It recently added a 395,000-square-foot warehouse, and employees produce Capri Sun and Kool-Aid products at the site.
“The Kraft Heinz Granite City plant is focused on a ‘Target Zero’ safety goal and is implementing lean initiatives to improve efficiencies, reduce losses and drive employee engagement,” said Joyce Hodel, a spokesperson for Kraft Heinz corporate affairs. “The facility supports several charitable organizations, including United Way, Phoenix Crisis Center, Good Samaritan, Community Care Food Bank and St. Louis Food Bank. In June 2015, the Kraft Foods Group Foundation gave a $20,000 grant to the St. Louis Food Bank.”