Restaurant kingpins Alexander and Whitney Hall have an empire on their hands. The couple owned five cafes in New York City before moving to Des Moines, opening their first St. Kilda Café & Bakery on MLK Boulevard south of downtown on the bottom floor of Harbach Lofts in 2017. Whitney, who grew up in Urbandale, convinced her London-born husband to give up the New York life and move to the slower pace of bucolic Iowa .
Fans went bonkers for the clean lines, light woods and exposed brick on the walls when St. Kilda opened. Lines formed out the door for what Alexander Hall calls a lighter healthier breakfast.
Customers love the breakfast-and-lunch menu served all day: avocado toast, a folded egg and bacon nestled inside a cheddar chive biscuit, chickpeas and garlic labneh tucked inside a kathi potato wrap, and a steak and mushroom pie that recalls Alexander Hall’s earlier years in Melbourne, Australia, with tender braised beef, local oyster mushrooms and caramelized onion bacon jam steaming under a puff pastry crust, just to name some of the mainstays on the menu.
Flash forward to a second location, St. Kilda Collective, opening in a rehabilitated 110-year-old building with its 7,000 square feet in a modern setting in Valley Junction. A full working kitchen pumps out supplies for all of the locations. The Halls debuted that location in June 2020 during the early months of the pandemic.
Then came Franka Pizzeria with a wood-fired oven and floor-to-ceiling windows wrapping from north to west in the East Village that replaced St. Kilda Surf & Turf. It has the feel of a restaurant one might find in Brooklyn, opening in the space in late 2020.
That’s not to say it’s been easy. The Halls closed one location of St. Kilda next to the Temple for the Performing Arts during the pandemic after many downtown businesses shifted to remote work. The more upscale St. Kilda Surf & Turf closed in November 2020 in favor of a more casual approach to pizza.
But the couple is on the rebound and their growing restaurant business continues to expand now that people are returning to pre-pandemic life. Since November 2021, the couple opened another Franka Pizzeria in Clive, and most recently in March, a St. Kilda Café & Bakery two doors down in the former Table 128 space.
“I was just going to have one café and I was going to live happily ever after,” Alexander Hall said. “Now there’s five of the bloody things.”
He’s joking, of course.
The newest St. Kilda in Clive serves many of the same modern dishes, pastries and breads baked in house, along with artisanal coffee drinks featuring Counter Culture Coffee, organic teas, smoothies, cocktails, beer and wine in an Australian-style restaurant setting.
The space gives the Halls an opportunity to explore new dishes in the “much more robust kitchen space,” Whitney Hall said. Downtown, St. Kilda uses induction cooking only, meaning no fryers, no open flames and poaching and toasting cook most of the warm dishes.
In Clive, the restaurant has a 10-burner stove and three fryers. “The chef is in heaven,” Alexander Hall said. “It just enables us to do different things. Plus, why keep the same stuff? ”
Indeed, that eye toward offering something a little different at each location keeps customers returning.
“We are excited to be able to offer more than what we can at St. Kilda downtown, ”Whitney Hall said.
Fried fish tacos come with a crispy battered hunk of cod nestled in a sweet jalapeño slaw. A grilled salmon dish features Brussels sprouts and butternut squash puree on the side. The St. Kilda burger touts Kobe beef and pimento cheese. A ricotta hotcake, which Whitney Hall called a must-order, turns up with passion fruit curd and an almond oat crumble.
Already, the newest location is stacked with customers waiting for the restaurant’s brunch-like dishes.
Now the couple employs 80 across all five restaurants.
The Halls may have one or two more restaurants in the works. Maybe a butchery. Maybe something on the south side of Des Moines.
“I think what we’re trying to improve the standard of hospitality in Des Moines,” said Alexander, estimating he poured $ 700,000 on the 3,500-square-foot location in the strip mall. “The quality of the design, the quality of the craftmanship, the quality of the furnishings are all something that is very important to us.”
As for the St. Kilda name, that comes from Alexander Hall’s time living in Melbourne, Australia. The seaside community also served as its roots in the restaurant industry and create a common storytelling thread seen from menu to light approach.
St. Kilda Bakery & Café, 12695 University Ave., Suite 140, Clive, 515-221-2101. Open daily from 8 am to 4 pm Kilda brings grilled salmon and ricotta hotcakes to its new location in Clive