While Corner Bistro has some of the most devoted regulars around, chances are you haven’t heard of the unassuming restaurant located at the corner of Macklind and Loughborough in the city’s Princeton Heights neighborhood. Flying under the critics’ radar for the last three years since it opened, it was voted as having the best pizza in Missouri last September, according to Buzzfeed. How? Thanks to positive Yelp reviews and owner Fahima Husic.
Husic and her husband Mirhet own the restaurant’s building, which includes an upstairs apartment and Weber’s Bar, a separately run operation. When the previous tenant in the restaurant space—Billy Goat Chip Company—grew too big, Fahima decided to open her own place. At the time, she was a server at The Olive Garden in Chesterfield and had just gone through a year-long management training program.
SOURCE: St. Louis Magazine
Prior to opening the restaurant, all of Husic’s culinary experience came from cooking at home, first in Bosnia as the oldest of five children, and then in St. Louis after immigrating in 1996. Despite her background, you won’t find any Bosnian food on the menu. When asked why, Husic explained that there were already several popular Bosnian restaurants in St. Louis, and she decided to appeal to an American population. Irma Kulovic, Husic’s daughter, who’s in charge of the social marketing for the restaurant and helps out on the weekends, said, “As tough as it was to get people in the door that first year, I can only imagine what it would have been like with Bosnian food.”
The pizza may not be Bosnian, but the handwork required to make the dough traces its roots back to Husic’s preparation of traditional Bosnian pita dishes. Husic claimed that the dough is the main reason the pizza’s so popular.
Pizza, burgers, and lasagna remain the most popular items on the menu. On a recent busy Friday night, they sold 51 pizzas, most of which were carry out. It’s just Husic right now and one other cook in the back and her son Armin waiting tables with Irma helping on the weekends. If customers had their way, Husic would only be out front . . . as long as whoever was in the kitchen was replicating her food exactly. With her genuine warmth, attention to detail, and high standards, Husic embodies the ideal restaurant owner. Customers ask for her when she’s in the kitchen, and regulars know everything about her children’s lives. When Armin recently graduated from college, for example, a few regulars brought gifts. “Some of them come here just to see her,” Irma said.
A visit to Corner Bistro requires dessert, specifically a slice of one of Husic’s signature cakes. The chocolate cream cake is a customer favorite. The graham cracker cake is so addictive, it should be a controlled substance. Husic also makes banana cream cake and attributes that cakes’ popularity to cutting out nearly half of the sugar in the tradition of European patisserie. The cakes are also sold as half and full sheets for special occasions.
“Treat everyone the way you want to be treated” is Husic’s guiding philosophy behind service in her restaurant. She noted that equally important are the food’s taste, its presentation, and service. Husic prefers that customers tell her right away when something isn’t to their liking rather than going home unhappy and not coming back. “I have no problem apologizing,” she said. Evident in all that Husic and Irma described about opening and maintaining a small, family-owned restaurant was the hard work involved that many don’t realize: passing out flyers around the neighborhood when they first opened, securing a liquor license in an area dominated by renters difficult to keep track of for signatures, balancing a menu of customer favorites with new items, and maintaining their 4-5 star-rating on Yelp.
When business was slow in the beginning, Husic cried every day. “We had to keep telling her that’s how the business is,” Irma said, noting that she’d Google articles about how long it takes for a restaurant to make a profit and share them with her mother. Husic handles much of the work herself, including the shopping, prepping, cooking, cleaning, planning, and managing (Mirhet, who has a full-time job outside of the restaurant, also helps with the shopping). She relies on her family, both immediate and extended, but even with that help, she said that she has to be “involved 100%,” claiming something many restaurant owners can relate to: “I cannot leave this place.”
Like other small business owners, when Husic goes out of town, which is rare, she has to close the business. This July, for example, she’s going back to Bosnia for the first time in five years to visit her extended family, and she plans on closing the restaurant for about a month. Acknowledging that’s a long time, Husic said that regulars who already know have been supportive. She can’t imagine leaving the restaurant in others’ hands, worrying that they wouldn’t be as precise as she because they’re not as invested. As Irma listened to her mom describe her dedication to the restaurant, she said, “I want her to get to the point when she’s not here every day.” When asked if she wants to get to that point, Husic responded, “I don’t think so. I have to be here.” Are we wrong for agreeing with her?