Photos by Maddie Hiatt

St. Louis native Rick Lewis has made a name for himself over the last few years all because of hot chicken. His signature dish, “Rick’s Famous Hot Chicken,” is a staple at his restaurant Grace Meat + Three.

“The way that we make chicken is definitely different than how anybody else in St. Louis makes chicken,” Lewis says. “From the way we marinate it with the acidic marinade, [to the way] we dry rub it with a spice blend, down to the way we fry it in corn oil. If you want it hot, we do it Nashville style. It was something that we really want to promote because it’s something that people love. It’s addicting. When you see people come in three times a week to get it, you know it’s something good.”

“Rick’s Famous Hot Chicken” is what the people come for. With a choice of a side, it’s impossible to go wrong.

From his first cooking job at a bar and his time working at several other restaurants, Lewis gained skills and learned how to become an actual chef, not just a cook. While he was content with the food he was cooking, it wasn’t until he met and worked with a chef who had just moved from Louisiana that he found his true culinary passion. After reading a book this colleague gave him, Lewis became infatuated with the idea of Southern-Style cooking.

“I realized there was this whole Southern food culture, so I started cooking those flavors,” Lewis says. “My cooking is definitely Southern-influenced, but it’s more just home-cooking comfort food. We try to do things really well and try to elevate it.”

Moving one step closer to owning his own business, Lewis partnered with Mike Emerson, owner of Pappy’s Smokehouse, to create something new for St. Louis: chicken cooked with a Southern flare.

“I went to Nashville with my wife, and we ate at a bunch of chicken places and did a bunch of homework and said, ‘This would be pretty cool.’ So I started cooking chicken. Like a lot of it. Then we came up with the recipe and that’s how [the restaurant] Southern happened.”

Rick Lewis has always wanted to have his own restaurant. And now that Grace Meat + Three is opened for business, that dream is a reality.

After two years, Lewis decided it was time to move on and truly start his own business. He and his wife, Elisa, created a list of ideas of potential new restaurants, but hot chicken was always a part of the plan. Almost 10 months later, Grace Meat + Three was open for business Wednesday-Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Manchester Avenue.

Basheer Lenge of St. Louis has been a customer at Grace Meat + Three since it opened and keeps coming back for two reasons: “Rick’s Famous Hot Chicken” and the service.

“He’s super cool, really nice and a humble guy, who loves and is loved by his customers,” Lenge says. “As a chef, his creations are awesome and really delicious.”

“The name came from God’s grace, saying grace before you eat,” Rick says.  “It also stands for courteous goodwill, and we just thought it was the perfect name. We built the restaurant on the premise that all people are special and deserve to be taken care of.”

Employee Britny “B” Bequette has worked at Grace since August and has loved every second of it.

“For me, Grace is very down to earth and realistic,” Bequette says. “Almost all the employees that work here left Southern with Rick, and he never asked them to, and that got me excited.”

Built on the premise that people deserve to be taken care of and fed well, Lewis hopes to expand the Grace brand not only for himself, but for the ones who have helped him get to where he is today.

“One of the goals was to build a company that has upward growth for the people that have made sacrifices to help us make our dreams come true,” Lewis says. “For all of those people that quit their jobs to come work here. We would want to grow the company along with the people that helped us.”

Lewis’ key to success? He says it all starts with the kind of person you are and how you treat others.

“If you take care of people and feed them good food, which is the culture we wanted to build [at Grace], they want to come back,” Lewis says. “It’s not like we’re doing anything crazy. We’re just trying to be good people.”