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Lion’s Choice Scores Food & Wine’s Top Pick For Fast Food In Missouri

Michael Kupstas is president and CEO of regional fast-food chain Lion's Choice, which has been around for more than five decades.
Michael Kupstas is president and CEO of regional fast-food chain Lion's Choice, which has been around for more than five decades.
Michael Kupstas is president and CEO of regional fast-food chain Lion's Choice, which has been around for more than five decades.
Credit Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
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Michael Kupstas is president and CEO of regional fast-food chain Lion's Choice, which has been around for more than five decades.

Several years ago, restaurant industry veteran Michael “Kup” Kupstas was happily enjoying retirement when the appeal of Lion’s Choice prompted a change of plans. He wound up reentering the workforce in 2017 as the regional fast-food chain’s president and CEO.

“It was really the similarity of an experience I had early on [in a previous role] with Panera, to be honest,” Kupstas said on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, explaining what impressed him about Lion’s Choice. “I think what makes certain brands stand out is that they are able to differentiate dramatically in a really crowded field.”

Kupstas told host Sarah Fenske that he was also drawn to the “loyal, fanatic fans” and the employees of Lion’s Choice, which Food & Wine magazine recently deemed Missouri’s best fast food.

“We just gave a team member who’s been slicing roast beef for us for 42 years [her] service award,” Kupstas said.

In addition to garnering praise from Food & Wine, the company has recently been opening some new stores and remodeling older ones — and now has a food truck. Lion’s Choice is also bringing back some old favorites when it comes to the menu.

“In 2007, we introduced a product line of platters, which was basically our roast beef on Texas toast with some delicious gravy, mashed potatoes and green beans,” Kupstas said. “We just brought those back, and we have heard from our guests immediately: ‘It’s been too long! Why did it take so long [to bring those back]?’”

But the 52-year-old company is also looking to the future and even exploring plant-based alternatives to meat.

“I don’t think it’s about attempting to duplicate roast beef flavor in a plant-based protein,” Kupstas said when asked to elaborate on what he envisions. “I think it is [about] giving folks more reasons to visit Lion’s Choice throughout the week … we’re looking at every option right now, but I think what is important is not to mimic the thing that’s made us famous for 52 years and to provide something that maybe there’s already a hole in the menu for.”

The St. Louis on the Air team conducted a taste test leading up to the live segment, since several members had never tried Lion’s Choice:

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Alexis Moore. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Alexis Moore joins St. Louis Public Radio as a production intern with St. Louis on the Air. Alexis recently completed her undergraduate education at Arizona State University, emphasizing in History and Film/Media Production. While there, she served as a writing tutor within Barrett, The Honors College and studied abroad at the University of Ghana.
Evie Hemphill joined the St. Louis on the Air team in February 2018. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English literature in 2005, she started her career as a reporter for the Westminster Window in Colorado. Several years later she went on to pursue graduate work in creative writing at the University of Wyoming and moved to St. Louis upon earning an MFA in the spring of 2010. She worked as writer and editor for Washington University Libraries until 2014 and then spent several more years in public relations for the University of Missouri–St. Louis before making the shift to St. Louis Public Radio.