britt hayes of lafayette local photo by zachary linhares

Lafayette Local cafe opening in former Rue Lafayette space this fall

More than 10 years have passed since Rue Lafayette closed, but people in Lafayette Square never stopped talking about it. The cafe at 2026 Lafayette Ave. was reportedly a victim of the divorce of its proprietor Araceli Kopiloff and her husband Richard Zimmer when it shuttered in 2013, and yet no one seemed certain the closure was final, even after the divorce was. Everyone seemed to think something, surely, could be worked out, and the occasional pop-up on-site in the years that followed only kept the flame alive. Whenever the lights were on after dark in the standalone building on Lafayette Avenue, people wondered: Is something finally happening at Rue Lafayette?

Something finally is happening at Rue Lafayette. Eleven years after Kopiloff closed the cafe, a new arrival to Lafayette Square, Britt Hayes, is preparing to open a cafe of her own in the space. She's calling it Lafayette Local, with an emphasis on "local" — and has dreams of creating the kind of local spot that British people (like her life partner, Jonathan Meyer) know so well: a place where you can get a drink, a bite to eat, some friendly conversation. "When I was on the road," Hayes said of her previous life running an executive consultancy, "I would seriously search for places like that." Of Lafayette Local, she said, "You should feel comfortable coming in by yourself and running into people."

Hayes has been in Lafayette Square just long enough to know how well that will suit the neighborhood. "It's in and of itself a small village," she mused. 


lafayette local in lafayette square // photo by zachary linhares


Like many well-heeled transplants, when Hayes and Meyer first moved to St. Louis (for his job, which is with Edward Jones), they were steered toward a rental in Clayton, which was lovely enough. But a chance conversation on a plane got Hayes looking toward the city, and Lafayette Square specifically, as a permanent St. Louis residence. "From day one, we really fell in love with it," Hayes recalled. "I'd go on walks and was just overwhelmed by the architecture. It's so beautiful."

Like many a person walking around Lafayette Square, Hayes found herself contemplating Rue Lafayette, wondering why it sat vacant in a neighborhood that otherwise thrummed with life. Unlike the others, though, she ended up tracking down the owner, Zimmer. "We started this dialogue," she recalled. "He said, 'It's not for sale.' He had hopes of reopening at some point." But they kept talking and bonded over Zimmer's love of local history. "Literally, for three and half years, we checked in with each other." 

For those years, Hayes split her time between St. Louis and New York City, where her youngest son was finishing high school. But he graduates this June and, conveniently, is heading to college at Mizzou. Even as Hayes was preparing to be in St. Louis full-time, her conversations with Zimmer finally seemed to be moving forward, and she was able to get the building appraised. "It was a mess, but a beautiful mess," she said.

Finally, in February, Hayes was able to close on the building she'd dreamt of — and begin the process of creating the cafe she dreams of. That came with Zimmer's blessing: He sold it on the condition that she do something good for their neighborhood, and she intends to make good on that promise.

She envisions a small bistro-style menu, with food designed for a casual bite but that would welcome you to stay for dinner, if you wanted. She wants to be open for breakfast, for grab-and-go coffee and for people to linger over a glass of wine. Mindful of the high percentage of families in the neighborhood with young children and the nearby Lafayette Prep charter school, she wants to serve soft-serve ice cream. There will be tables inside and on the large patio overlooking Lafayette Park, but also a few couches, a la the coffee shop in Friends

"It can be the stopping place before you go out to dinner," she said, adding, "I really don't want to compete with anyone. I truly see it as complementary to the offerings in the neighborhood, and I hope this business lifts others as well."

Hayes hopes to be open by October, and the buzz around the streets of Lafayette Square, which never really died, has now reached a fever pitch. "Every time I was walking in the park, people would say, 'Any news, any news?'" She gave a sneak peek to neighbors a few months ago, and that only heightened the excitement. She still has plenty of work to do, but she's starting to see her vision come together.

She said, "Now that we're getting the clutter out, we're able to really see the space, and it's beautiful." And soon, more than 10 years after Rue Lafayette closed, the locals will finally get to see it too.

This article was originally published by the Riverfront Times.