• feature stories




home feature stories a new pearl on grafton's riverfront: the grafton oyster bar

A New Pearl on Grafton's Riverfront: The Grafton Oyster Bar

Recent Feature Stories


A New Pearl on Grafton's Riverfront: The Grafton Oyster Bar

As a child, Brad Hagen learned how to cook in his Jerseyville, IL, grandmother's kitchen.

The owner and chef of the newly opened Grafton Oyster Bar, in Grafton, IL, discovered the art of cooking and found a passion for food in the Jersey County countryside.

"She really taught me more than I could ever learn," Hagen said. "I learned to have a palette and passion for cooking from my grandmother."

The Grafton Oyster Bar, which opened for business in March, has long been a dream of Hagen's. As he discovered his food-based passions, he also realized he wanted one day to open a restaurant on the water. And, he noted, it couldn't just be any restaurant. He wanted a seafood restaurant.

"I'm a country boy at heart. But I've always liked seafood. We would take vacations to Florida when I was a kid and I was introduced to oysters there. I've loved seafood ever since," he said.

Hagen's journey to Grafton didn't follow a straight line. When he began working as a young adult, he found himself in restaurants as a bar back, bartender, closer and eventually a general manager. Hagen bought his own small restaurant in south St. Louis County which he operated successfully for several years. After the birth of his first daughter, he realized he needed to have a career which provided more stability. He then went to work at the Broadway Oyster Bar, a popular downtown St. Louis eatery, nine years ago as a chef. Ironically, he has no formal culinary school training.

"I've learned from my grandmother and spending time around other chefs," he said. "Really 80 percent of being a chef is in managing other people."

When the opportunity to open the Grafton Oyster Bar, based on the successful Broadway Oyster Bar model, came up last fall, Hagen realized his long-time dream was within reach. Family friends, Joe and Jan DeSherlia offered him the opportunity to open the restaurant above the Floating Winery at Grafton Harbor. Along with business partners John and Vicki Johnson, he became the primary owner of the Grafton restaurant.

At the Grafton Oyster Bar, Hagen has been able to bring the Cajun and Creole tasts that made the Broadway Oyster Bar a success to the Grafton riverfront. The restaurant, which sits at the edge of the Illinois River near the confluence with the Mississippi River, offers breathtaking views. Diners are able to choose between outdoor or indoor seating. All indoor tables offer river views. He remodeled the interior of the restaurant to reflect the seafood theme and that means some walls are filled with oyster shells and covered with wire so they are visible. A blackboard on a wall showcases the daily specials which Hagen creates himself.

All the food served at the restaurant is made from scratch, Hagen said. "There is nothing pre-breaded here. We do it all ourselves. The sauces and dressings we make from scratch in the kitchen."

The authenticity of the food is important to Hagen, who is a strong believer in southern comfort food.

"I've always been the kind of chef who believes customers should get value for their money. While we have seafood here, we also serve steak and meatloaf. We have a children's menu and every Wednesday children eat for free," he said. "I'm very hands-on. I prepare all the specials for lunch and dinner."

One recipe for success that Hagen plans to use in the Grafton location is monthly food specials. He is creating a crawfish festival which will focus on food specials and live music. Additional festivals featuring shrimp, crab, mussels and scallops are on his calendar.

"In May, I want to bring in 1,000 pounds of mud bugs and do a traditional boil," Hagen said.

Plans are also in the works to expand the outdoor deck which sits above Grafton Harbor. That will increase the outdoor seating to 90 and include an oyster shucking station and outdoor grilling station.

"The response we have received so far in Grafton has really exceeded our expectations," Hagen said. "Everyone has been so warm, welcoming and supportive. I am just thrilled and proud to bring St. Louis to Grafton."

The Grafton Oyster Bar is located at 215 Water Street, Grafton, IL, at the Grafton Harbor. A full carry-out menu is available in addition to the tradition in-restaurant menu. For more information, call 618-786-3000.