Balkan Treat Box Brings Culturally Diverse Food to Webster Groves

This welcoming Bosnian-owned restaurant will give you a chance to try food from all over the Balkans. The best part is, it’s a seven minute walk from Webster’s campus.

By Charlotte Renner

You walk into a restaurant and are immediately met with upbeat Balkan music, the warmth of a woodfire oven behind the counter and maybe a greeting of, “Hello, friend. Are you hungry? You’re in the right spot.” 

You’ve just entered the Balkan Treat Box, a Bosnian-owned restaurant less than a mile away from Webster University. 

The Balkan Treat Box creates a unique blend of food from all over the Balkans. They also host a unique blend of people who make the restaurant work.

“I had no background of Bosnian culture or anything of the sort,” cook Garion “Juice” Welch said. “I wanted to learn something brand new, and this is the spot.”

Welch tends to the oven, cooking meat spread onto flat, round dough. This is the cooking process for things on the menu like pitas and lahmacuns. 

Ernesto Ortega works on the other end of the kitchen, grilling and flipping small sausages and loading them onto freshly baked bread. These sausages are called ćevapi, a traditional Bosnian food. 

“They call me ‘Ćevapi Papi,’” Ortega said of his coworkers. 

The whole staff jokes around a lot, which Ortega loves. 

He said his favorite thing about working at the Balkan Treat Box is the people. 

“I love them, they love me. And I get to be with my best friend,” Ortega said, motioning to Antonio Lagunas down the counter.

Ernesto Ortega and Antonio Lagunas prepare food at the Balkan Treat Box on an April afternoon. The two are best friends and have worked in the restaurant business together for 10 years. Photo by Charlotte Renner.

Ortega and Lagunas have been working together in the food industry for around 10 years. 

“We’ve worked all over St. Louis together,” Lagunas said. “Webster Groves, downtown, everywhere.” 

Ortega started working at the Balkan Treat Box three years ago. Lagunas followed him there in the midst of the pandemic after the restaurant he worked at had to shut down. The Balkan Treat Box stayed open throughout the pandemic, though they just opened their dining room in early April.

Ortega said that Lagunas fit right in with the rest of the staff. 

“He’s very hard working, probably as much as me. Maybe a little less,” Ortega joked. 

Lagunas agrees the Balkan Treat Box is like a family, but he also really likes the lower stress level compared to other restaurants he has worked for. 

“Some restaurants you can’t even talk while you work,” Lagunas said. “Here it’s more relaxed, but you stay focused on what you do.” 

The Balkan Treat Box posted this photo of their Ćevapi, a traditional Bosnian food, on their Instagram.

The food they serve at the Balkan Treat Box resonates with Bosnians, but also the rest of the restaurant’s diverse clientele which ranges from Americans to Indians to Pakistanis. 

This is what makes the Balkan Treat Box special, according to staff member Emir Nalic. 

“I think it creates a home or a feeling of home for people all over the place,” Nalic said. “Maybe they see something in the way we make our flatbreads that reminds them of something from their home.”

For people in St. Louis, the Balkan Treat Box is something new to try. The one-of-a-kind restaurant serves as a place where people can find something they’ll enjoy with roots in a variety of cultures.

“We have new people coming in every single day saying ‘I’ve never been here, I don’t know what this is like,’” Welch said. “How do you say thank you, what is you’re welcome? They want to know all of it.” 

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