A Q&A with Our Fearless (Well, Almost Fearless) Leader
Acclimate Founder Anthony Bartlett is used to being in new situations. It’s his mission to make newcomers feel at ease in St. Louis, whether they want to get pedicures, smoke cigars or ride a train at a kids’ museum.
But there are a few places he draws the line. “I'm utterly petrified of chewing gum, margarita salt and unmatched Tupperware lids. They all send me running out the door in terror.”
Those are just a few of the surprising facts the amiable host and tour guide shared about himself for this Q&A. (Jump over to this blog to read some of the more unusual facets of his work at Acclimate, along with places guaranteed to please newcomers.)
What are some things people may not know about you if they met you in your professional life?
It’s ironic, but I cannot stand moving. I’ve only done it a handful of times in my life. So it always goes, right? We teach what we need to learn the most and the cobbler’s children have no shoes.
Oh, and I'm not a transplant myself. Even calling myself a "re-plant" is a sketchy stretch at best.
Does that get in the way of your job?
Not really. I try to spin it into an asset by explaining that since I personally find moving so excruciating, our company is extremely invested in helping individuals find a life they don't want to leave in St. Louis – and thus don't have to move again for a long long time, if ever. Most play along and take pity on me. Others are more skeptical. [Laughs.]
If not for the love of moving, how did you get into this work?
Someone said way back when to try and find a career that entails pretty much doing what you would be doing anyway and then getting paid for it. I was forever that guy reading Emily Post or geeking out on food and travel shows in my spare time – giddy to come home to pre-recorded episodes of Aerial America on the Smithsonian Channel or Anthony Bourdain reruns.
So while moving logistics wasn’t my passion, hospitality, entertainment and concierge work most certainly were. Put another way, in whatever industry or job in which I previously found myself, I was always playing the connector, city guide or “fixer” for out-of-town clients and associates (otherwise known as “sales,” haha!).
But after so long, I wondered what it would be like to be able to wine, dine and woo, so to speak, without guests having to buy a product or service at the end. What if showing someone a great time could be the service and St. Louis itself could be the product? From there, the Acclimate model was born.
Are there hard parts of the job for you personally?
For sure. I mean, I never really wanted to watch a clock, and I pretty much live to work – so having zero work-life balance isn’t so much of an issue on my end. But as with anything in hospitality, hours can be brutal and all over the place. It’s not infrequent that our day begins at 2 p.m. and goes to 11 p.m. – when job candidates have finished with their interviews or have time to tour and connect. Also, dozens of visits throughout the year have fallen on weekends or even holidays. Sunday is far and away our busiest day of the week.
Getting attached to wonderful people – then having to let go – isn’t easy either. While I’d love to say that everyone we host ends up here forever, try as we might, it’s not always in the cards. Sometimes St. Louis just isn’t a fit or things don’t move forward with the company for whatever reason. There we were, out on the road together for days breaking bread, sharing family stories and otherwise just bonding – only to have to say goodbye.
Or let’s say all goes well with the offer and they do move – making new friends or joining inner circles, including my own. Contracts end, departments relocate and companies get acquired, any of which can see transplants leave for reasons outside of their control. I’ve attended some pretty rough going away parties over the years and left the departures lane at Lambert practically in tears more than once. St. Louis has lost some dear friends and change-makers for sure.
Still, I try not to define those scenarios as a total loss – difficult as they are. Most of the employers and institutions for whom we work prefer that their recruits remember their time here fondly and have a positive St. Louis experience, even if it’s not permanent. And I think all parties involved in the hiring process like knowing they did everything they could to put their best foot forward and leave it all on the field.
It's clear that your work is deeply intertwined with your personal life. But what are some of your hobbies outside the office?
Left to my own devices, I prefer to do a lot of the same things that I do on the job – which, again, is probably not an accident. I love deep diving into area neighborhoods, driving Missouri roads, shopping or grabbing a coffee. I also enjoy being poolside, hanging by a real fireplace or having a sip on the patio with friends.
Another happy place is undoubtedly at the grill, stove or kitchen counter – and the prep before. Grocery shopping and cooking are perhaps the only things I do where I literally don't think about anything else. And doing the dishes. I LOVE doing dishes. Good, bad or indifferent, looking at the bottom of a clean sink every night, I feel like the needle has moved in life.
Outside of all that, I won't say no to a poker game, round of chess, pool or ping pong with a trash-talking nephew. Pickleball seems to be taking over the world down here and could be a natural fit. It’s on the bucket list for sure!
So you like to grocery shop? Can I ask? Dierbergs or Schnucks?
Haha, oh, man. Fighting words! But that's a great question. I warn all of our clients: There are a few regional chains in town, many of which are seriously next-level. But at some point, you'll be asked to choose. For the most part, I'm Schnucks. My mother is Dierbergs. We can still hang out on Thanksgiving. [Laughs.] People moving also like to know that they can have their Whole Foods, Fresh Thyme, Trader Joe's, Aldi, Sam’s Club and Costco – and you can find me at nearly all those places every now and again too.
For years, I’ve been a regular at more specialty spots like Straub’s for a few things, Pan-Asia Supermarket, Tower Grove Farmers Market, El Toluco Taquieria & Grocery, Bolyard’s Meat and Provisions, Parker’s Table, Global Foods, Smokehouse Market and The Wine and Cheese Place, to name a few. One or more of those places also end up on almost every tour we have.
When circling back with clients, I love hearing things like, “Welp, you called it, I’m officially a Dierbergs girl” or “The Fields Foods by our house is unbelievable” or “You weren't kidding about that Straub’s chicken salad, by the way. We can’t get enough!”
Other than for food, where else would you say you like to shop?
If we're talking fashion, friends and loved ones mercilessly abuse me for what could aptly be called a cardigan "problem." Actually, it's more like a compulsion. Like, if it would look good on Mister Rogers, I have to have it. Every color and material. It's bizarre and I’m not sure what that's about. But I’m always looking high and low, virtually anywhere clothing is sold. Sometimes Mister Guy carries the brands I especially like.
Sandy and the team at Erker’s Fine Eyewear ruin my life and bank account. And the kind folks at Timekeepers aren't much help either – I literally could (and do) stay in there for hours. As a giant human with a yo-yo-ing muffin top and an extra-high instep, finding shoes and clothes that fit is no joke. So I spend far too much time at Cobblestone Shoe Repair and St. Louis Alternations, where the former yells at me for asking them to stretch shoes that don't fit and the latter lovingly (yet begrudgingly) likes to say, "Anthony, next time you look at a bagel, think of Irina!" Those bagels, by the way, were usually from The Bagel Factory in Creve Coeur. I’m also looking forward to trying Lefty’s and Union Bakery as I’m not sure the level to which Fortune 500 companies around here can fully grasp how a decent bagel keeps talent in the region.
For gifts, my personal go-to's are Green Shag Market, Treasure Aisles, Ladue Pharmacy, Neiman, Saks, Byrd, Sammysoap, Arch Apparel and Civil Alchemy. Hats from the Normal Brand or t-shirts from STL-Style are also a can’t-miss. For odds, ends and things around the house, I think Schnarr’s Hardware (and the service there) is one of the last bastions of professionalism left on Earth that makes humanity worth preserving.
As someone who takes people out to eat for a living and tries all the great spots, what are your personal favorites?
This is another dangerous question that gets me into trouble. As I said earlier, if we’re on the job, clients’ tastes and interests lead the way. But if we’re talking about me personally, left to my own devices – and I’m squirming as I say this – you can usually find me at the same handful of places, some of which, funnily enough, have been around for decades (back to my townie status). These are Mai Lee, Kreis’, Louie and Michael's – covering nearly all the bases. Breakfast is Winslow’s Table. My drive-thru is Lion's Choice. My bakery is Union Loafers.
Since I spend most of my days helping people find the opposite of St. Louis-style pizza, I do sneak off for a Deluxe at Imo’s and stock the freezer with Dogtown Pizza when I can. (And just like that, my New York clients have probably stopped speaking to me!)
As for drinks, I'm at Sasha's in summer, Fox and Hounds in winter and Brennan's pretty much year-round. I like to “happy hour” at Clayton Winehouse who’ll open up any bottle and snacks you buy in the store right then and there. I also like keeping it simple and old-school at The Famous Bar. While we utterly adore the local breweries who positively crush it hosting our clients (4 Hands, Civil Life, Schlafly, Rockwell, 2nd Shift, Perennial and Urban Chestnut, to name a few), I personally drink Busch beer and Stag in the can or Budweiser bottles. I stop for the bone broth at Bolyard's when it’s cold, Miracle Green at OR Smoothie when it’s hot and, for tea, it’s Teatopia all the way. As for coffee, well, I love and drink it all – as long as it's iced. Although without the likes of Northwest, Picasso’s, Sump and Blueprint to name too few, I’m not sure the region would recruit a soul – and I’m only half kidding.
How about sports, music or the arts?
Historically, I haven’t been too big into the “sports ball,” as friends lovingly poke fun at me. (Recruiting Cubs and Patriots fans to St. Louis for a living is an occupational hazard that requires one to be far more neutral than most natives can stomach). But I do get sucked into Cardinals baseball, like any mere mortal – and find myself fist pumping, yelling and monitoring the heart rate regularly come October. Although the experience of Busch Stadium is nothing short of spectacular, I have just as much fun at divey sports bars screaming at the TV. For Blues hockey, though, there is just something about being there in person. While Amsterdam Tavern has been my go-to on countless tours for soccer fans over the years, the powers that be really hit it out of the park with the new stadium and our soccer culture here in general. That whole Midtown / Downtown West corridor is just bananas and makes my job infinitely easier – especially when bringing young, creative, and/or international talent to the area.
As for shows, while I love to take people by The Muny, Stifel Theatre, Enterprise Center, Fabulous Fox, Pageant and whatever they call Riverport Amphitheatre these days, I am personally more of a Duck Room, Joe’s Cafe, Blue Strawberry kind of a guy. Maybe Off Broadway or The Sheldon if I want to get crazy with a “crowd.” The Rep is arguably my favorite spot to see a play. And I spend more money at Helium on comedy acts than I’d like to admit.
Few cities have the kind of intimate venues we do – with the same levels of gritty authenticity, cool factor and soul. I mean, if I have a music lover in tow and they catch likes of Marquise Knox at Broadway Oyster Bar, get to pop into Powell Hall or see Jake’s Leg at a place like Venice Cafe, it’s pretty much over.
Would you say you have a St. Louis celebrity crush?
Where to begin on this one? That line forms at the left. I’d argue that one of our biggest exports happens to be our kids – countless numbers of whom head off into the world to do some pretty remarkable things. Part of the fun of hosting first-time visitors is sharing with them that many of their favorite heroes and origin stories are, in fact, St. Louis stories. Generally, people will know the staples like Jon Hamm, Nelly, maybe Joe Buck. But like the Panera situation I talked about in this blog, it’s a blast watching folks react to learning about the likes of Jayson Tatum, Ezekiel Elliot, Andy Cohen, Kevin Kline, Jennifer Lewis, Tyron Woodley, Ellie Kemper, James Gunn, Bradley Beal, Jenna Fischer, Maya Angelou, John Goodman, Sterling K. Brown, Tina Turner and Chuck Berry, to name a few too many. That three of the current players on the U.S. national soccer teams are from St. Louis (Tim Ream, Josh Sargent and Becky Sauerbrunn). That five players selected in the first round of the 2016 NHL draft were from the same city. That New Yorker’s beloved Shake Shack and Union Square founder, Danny Meyer, is from here. That three out of the four times Ernest Hemmingway took the plunge, it was to someone from St. Louis.
When you’re out and about with would-be CIO-types and wondering how to get their attention, the fact that David Steward, Jack Dorsey and Square co-founder Jim McKelvey are St. Louisans doesn't hurt. I’d argue that Wash U has pretty much become a celebrity brand – certainly to parents coming from the East Coast along with virtually anyone in the field of medicine. The chess community is becoming known around the globe, along with golf and tennis scenes that are utterly world-class and finally coming out from under the radar. But for me personally, if pressed, it’s a really tough call between Nikki Glaser and Ed Herman at the moment. I’ve been a star-struck comedy fan-boy since college. And now one of the best to do it at the top of her game – who can literally live anywhere in the world – came home to tool around all the places we enjoy every day? Just beyond cool. But then I see those bantering lawyers eating all the sandwiches at our best local gems and I just don’t know. Can this one be a tie?
Anthony Bartlett is the Founder of Acclimate. Acclimate helps companies attract, hire and retain top talent within the St. Louis region by connecting prospective candidates and new hires with the lifestyle, communities, preferences and affinity groups that maximize their quality of life.