Nick Funke '04

Nick Funke graduated Whitfield in 2004, attended Pomona College in Claremont, CA, and graduated with a B.A. in Mathematical Economics in 2008. He currently owns and operates Stone Turtle Restaurant and Whiskey Bar in Dogtown, St. Louis (stoneturtlestl.com). Stone Turtle has been featured in Feast Magazine, The Riverfront Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Magazine, and Ladue News.

“The non-content-specific skills I learned [at Whitfield] mattered significantly more in the long run. The small, interactive classes were very similar to many of my classes in college. I was prepared to be able to talk in front of other people and contribute in ways that some of my college classmates were not…I was able to take on leadership roles that increased my confidence is both public speaking and leading a team. Lastly, the structured but somewhat free-flowing aspects of the school made adapting to the social elements of college easier.” 

How did Whitfield prepare you for college and beyond?

The academic education I received at Whitfield was wonderful. I learned how to write well at Whitfield. The constant drafting of ideas and building upon simple concepts has helped me be able to write proficiently on any subject.  The individualized college counseling greatly simplified a daunting application process; I will forever be grateful to those who advised me and wrote my letters of recommendation.

That said, when thinking about the school as preparation for college, the non-content-specific skills I learned mattered significantly more in the long run. The small, interactive classes were very similar to many of my classes in college. I was prepared to be able to talk in front of other people and contribute in ways that some of my college classmates were not. In addition, whether playing sports or engaging in extracurricular activities, I worked with others in pursuit of a common goal and was able to take on leadership roles that increased my confidence is both public speaking and leading a team. Lastly, the structured but somewhat free-flowing aspects of the school made adapting to the social elements of college easier.

The one thing I really wished I had absorbed better would be the organization skills so much a part of the Whitfield education. My job, and my life, is a never-ending, always-changing scramble of events, meetings, deadlines and tasks without the overall structure of a standard job to encase them. I still am working on developing my planning and scheduling skills and miss the days when I had that Whitfield planner in which I was coached to write everything down.

Why did you and your family choose Whitfield?

When I visited Whitfield as a prospective student, the kids seemed genuinely happy to be at school; I did not observe this at other schools. This, in addition to the academics, appealed to my family and to me.

What skills do you use in your career that you began forming at Whitfield?

As so many of my Whitfield classes were project-based, I use the project management skills of organization and working thoughtfully and effectively with others to accomplish common goals every day. I also use my writing and communication skills in all that I do.

Describe your career path.

I currently own and operate Stone Turtle Restaurant and Whiskey Bar in Dogtown, St. Louis.

Like many people I always thought about owning my own restaurant but didn’t really consider it as a potential career until my mid-twenties. I got my start in restaurants during my senior year Internship at Whitfield when I interned with local restauranteur Mike Johnson at Barcelona, his Spanish tapas restaurant in Clayton.

I worked numerous restaurant jobs through college, but upon graduating with a degree in Economics had no plans to continue to do so. I started a job in internal corporate finance. I lasted six months; I absolutely hated it. Sitting in front of a computer 8-10 hours a day, very limited human interaction, tedious repetitive tasks weren’t for me.

I started to bartend and manage a friend’s restaurant while trying to find a job that was more suitable for me. I had the opportunity to move to New York City, and without a clear path in mind, I jumped at it. I worked at restaurants in New York and learned what it meant to devote yourself to mastering something. At my first job I worked myself up from a back waiter (busser) to assistant manager while learning everything I could about, food, wine and restaurants. I had the opportunity to work on projects that were creative, organizational, and technological. I was able to contribute in ways that were rewarding, and I got to see the results of my work play out in real time. That’s when I finally became serious about my life in restaurants. I loved creating something for others to enjoy and being able to see it through.

I moved on to another restaurant group where I took over a higher management role with even more responsibility and creative control. I managed a staff of 10, then 20, and then expanded to running a restaurant with 50 employees. I was lucky enough to have bosses who taught me and believed in me, but I was also provided enough oversight that I didn’t lose focus or let my mistakes spiral out of control. Eventually I helped open a new restaurant and simultaneously helped oversee four restaurants for the restaurant group. This allowed me to transition from a smaller, day-to-day operation to a big picture philosophy and systems mentality. I was able to take what I learned working at these companies and use it to achieve my dream of opening my own restaurant.

I moved back to St Louis in 2016, found a restaurant space, and connected with business partners that shared the same vision. It was a long and difficult process, with thousands of small details, but the reward of solving a problem or accomplishing something is a great motivator. There is no longer any safety net; all final decisions reside with me. In a way its freeing—but also terrifying. It took eight months to get everything ready, scrambling until the last hour before we opened. Finally, things came together, and all my hard work has resulted in something of which I am incredibly proud.