This upcoming weekend is a long time coming for Nichol Stevenson. It marks the grand opening of the House of Soul, a live music and entertainment venue she envisioned when she and fellow co-founders Angela Brown and Rochelle “Coco Soul” Walker established the monthly open mic series Café Soul 13 years ago.
While speaking about the traveling musical evening that was hosted by some of the most popular clubs on the local scene, Stevenson talked about having a permanent venue that caters to the R&B/Soul community of St. Louis.
“I was tired of moving around,” Stevenson said. Café Soul outlasted several of the clubs that hosted them over the years. “About seven to ten years ago I said, ‘I want my own space – and I think I can do it.’”
The vision she spoke into the universe, House of Soul, will officially open its doors on Friday. The weekend of grand opening festivities will be a sample of what patrons can regularly expect from the establishment – located at 1204 Washington (at Tucker). The party kicks off on Friday, October 18 at 4 p.m. with a happy hour and will transition into a live music experience that begins at 8 p.m. and will feature soul singers Will Robinson (Friday night) and Terry Rogers on Saturday night.
“I’m still in awe about everything. I’m anxious. I’m nervous, but I’m excited about these parts of the vision come together,” Stevenson said. “The culture of St. Louis deserves an entertainment venue like this.”
The journey has not been easy, but it has been worth it for Stevenson. Just as she was putting in the work to get the doors open two years ago, a devastating health crisis threatened her vision – and her life. She secured the location from Tony Thompson, who owns the building where House of Soul is located – and was ready to get the ball rolling when she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. “Mr. Thompson said, ‘Go take care of yourself, I will keep the space for you,’” Stevenson said.
While undergoing treatment, she operated House of Soul as a private event space in order to secure funds to open the venue permanently. “With my health, I was trying to raise money as I go,” Stevenson said. Her last treatment was in May.
One of the events that grew out of her efforts was Trap, Soul & Paint. The monthly Sunday nightlife experience which blends creativity and the club scene by having each guest paint a piece of art while catching a vibe from the DJ and hype man, sold out 13 times in a row.
Six months ago, Stevenson found an investor and consultant in nightlife veteran Drexel Stith, who had retired from the industry to build a successful real estate business. During his club days, his venue, The Loft, hosted several installations of Café Soul and Stith developed a mutual respect. When she was looking for funders, she reached out.
“I shared the vision. He came to a few events and saw what I was trying to do and what I was trying to bring to the city,” Stevenson said. “He was like, ‘You are the only person that can bring me back into this business.’”
Stith felt a spark was ignited when she presented the project to him and laid out the business plan for the venue that will be equal parts art gallery, live music/event space and restaurant once the kitchen is installed later this year or early next year.
“I thought it was a great concept – kind of like a spinoff from the House of Blues,” Stith said. “Nichol is passionate and committed to doing it right. That’s one of the things that made me say that this is a worthwhile project. I wanted to help her as much as I possibly could to bring that blueprint from the page and bringing it into reality.”
Stevenson said expectations are high, based on the 13 years of consistency she and the Café Soul team provided by way of their brand.
Café Soul was on hiatus as she worked on Trap, Soul & Paint while securing capital for House of Soul and developing the model for her venue – a spot that has top-notch music, art and food – but it too will return on October 25 with House of Soul as its permanent home.
“I believe there are new artists – R&B and hip-hop artists – that need our platform, opportunity and the stage to help them grow and navigate in this industry” Stevenson said. “When I look back at the people and what they’ve gone on to do, in part, because of the space that Café Soul provided…You have Tish Haynes-Keys who was on ‘The Voice,’ and you had Gabii who was on ‘American Idol.’ I believe our platform is still needed today.”
She is overwhelmed by the steady stream of support she has received since venturing into the nightlife scene with Café Soul. “Sometimes I can’t believe that people are still buying tickets,” Stevenson said. “And still calling me and believe in me and trust me with their experiences for themselves and their families and their friends. But they know I’ll put my best into it.”
According to her, the same will be said for the House of Soul.
“I just believe our culture needs something like this,” Stevenson said, “something that’s positive – and is for us – and by us.”
House of Soul’s opening weekend will take place October 18 and October 19. For more information, visit www.houseofsoulstl.com or call (314) 504-7405.