Eat STL: Balkan Treat Box

| Producer

In many ways, food is more than just sustenance. It inspires conversations, holds cultural importance, and tells the chef’s story. Student Life Producer Emily Talkow presents Eat STL, a series that profiles chefs in the St. Louis community. In this episode, Talkow talks with Edo, Loryn, and Emir Nalic, owners of Balkan Treatbox, about the intersection between food, family, and home. 

You can listen to episodes of Eat STL on Spotify or Apple Music.

This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity.

Edo (0:00-0:11): And the feel of the bread, the taste of the bread. Not just the meat, but the whole experience. That’s something that we really wanted to emulate and then bring to St. Louis as much as you possibly can. 

Loryn (0:11-0:20): Yeah I mean, I think anybody that comes to Balkan, like one of the first things they notice is getting out of their car, like in the parking lot, like it smells like our food.

Music interlude

Emily Talkow (0:23-0:48): Hi, I’m Emily Talkow and you’re listening to Eat St. Louis. You just heard from Edo and Loryn Nalic, husband and wife and owners of Balkan Treatbox along with Edo’s brother, Emir. I had the privilege of talking with Edo, Loryn, and Emir to hear about their experience bridging together food, culture, and family here in St. Louis. Emir and Edo are both from Bosnia. In the early 1990s when the war in Bosnia broke out, Emir and Edo were forced to flee.

Emir (0:48-1:30): The war started, we had to flee to Slovenia first and then Germany after that. And that’s when we kind of got introduced to different foods and Turkish food especially because you know even though there’s a lot of Turkish influence in Bosnia, right now there’s almost no Turkish people there so, you know, you get to try something different. And there’s a huge Turkish population in,in, in Germany. Wherever you go, you, you take something with you, I think. That’s, I think, how all of this started because you take something with you and you want it, you want it for yourself first and foremost and then you want to share with everyone to show you know, what we have and what we like and where we are from. 

ET (1:30-1:37): Fast-forward and Edo had emigrated to the United States. While working at a Bosnian restaurant in South City, he met Loryn. 

Edo (1:37-1:50): Loryn came into, uh, she was working for Sysco Food Service. She was a salesperson. That’s how we met. That was 2006. Do you want me to tell you about the instant attraction?  

Loryn (1:50-1:51): That’s okay. We can skip that. 

Edo (1:51-1:53): We can skip that. Alright, alright. Okay we’ll skip that. 

Loryn (1:53-1:54): That’s how we met. 

Edo (1:54-1:55): Yeah, That’s how we met. 

Loryn (1:55-1:56): The rest is history. 

Edo (1:56-2:05): We married in 2007. Emir came in 2011, right? To visit, yeah. To visit. And we kind of tried to, um, persuade him to stay.

ET (2:05-2:11): It didn’t take too long to persuade Emir to stay. I asked Emir and Edo if it was hard to leave Bosnia and their family. 

Edo (2:11-2:21): I’m a little bit more callous when it comes to that. I guess I was and then I just suppressed those feelings. 

Emir (2:21-2:46): Well, for me, I think with just, from the social aspect, with, you know high school, college, work. I moved here recently and a lot of those friendships have been built over, you know, 20 plus years.  You miss those people and when you see pictures from Sarajevo and, you know, videos, I miss it quite often. 

ET (2:46-2:54): Being so far from home, Emir and Edo discussed the significance of food memory. They both said that the cevapi is their favorite recipe on the menu.

Edo (2:54-3:00): Our grandpa would always tell us, like, if we behave, he’ll take us to get cevapi. And we, he never did.  

Loryn (3:03-3:04): Maybe you were never good, you were never behaved.

Edo (3:04-3:06): We were probably always fighting or something.

ET (3:06-3:16): Before starting Balkan Treatbox, Loryn visited Bosnia to experience everything she had heard from Edo. They said this trip was important so they could align their visions for the restaurant.  

Loryn (3:16-3:40): They grew up with it, and I only knew what I knew here. Like, after the war, we got our influx of people from that region opening restaurants and cafes. And then just people that I knew personally. I think it just made sense to be, you know, to actually get in there and see what it actually looks like. And you know, in the countries that he’s from. And I ended up in Bosnia with Emir.

Emir (3:40-3:42): It was a fun time. 

Loryn (3:42-3:48): Great time. Ate a bunch of food. Cooked a bunch of food. Learned a lot about a lot of things. 

Emir (3:48-3:49):We partied a little bit. 

Loryn (3:49-4:00): We partied a little bit. Definitely had some fun. It was my first time being out of the country. So it was, it was definitely a huge life changing experience for me in many ways. 

Emir (4:00-4:06) Yeah, a lot of moments she would just stop and cry, and I’m like, what the hell is going on? 

Loryn (4:06-4:07): What’s wrong with this woman? 

Emir (4:08-4:10): But, you know, you could tell it was just emotions. 

ET (4:11-4:25): Throughout our conversation, there was a resonant theme surrounding food, family, and home. Outside of Europe, St. Louis has the largest Bosnian population. Connecting people to food that they grew up with seemed of high importance to Loryn, Emir, and Edo.  

Edo (4:25-4:58): I had a really interesting experience once with a customer  from India. He told me how much he loves it, that the smell reminded him of home. And if you think about it, like where Bosnia, where the Balkans are, where, where India is, I know it was part of the Silk Route. But that was centuries ago, but we share many more similarities than, than, than what we think. A lot of those people step in and they start feeling comfortable sooner than later, before we even talk to them.

ET (4:58-5:09): If you’ve seen the menu at Balkan Treatbox, you know it isn’t huge, but it has all the essentials. Besides the cevapi, I talked to Edo, Emir, and Loryn about the menu and how they chose what to include on it. 

Edo (5:09-5:34): Also the Lahmacun. Being a teenager in Germany, and having tried that for the first time, the doner is well, like, we keep the menu simple, not just for the simplicity of the production and quality control, but also for I think, to pick things that do mean something to you and you want to, you don’t want to water down everything else but these are the things that we love and appreciate and want to share.

ET (5:34-5:43): Balkan Treatbox is a family restaurant. I talked with them about what it means to work with your family for your career. And what’s it like to work as a family together?

Edo (5:43-5:46): Dun dun dun

Loryn (5:47-5:49): Everybody says that, but I don’t feel that way. 

Edo (5:49-6:25): Everybody needs to know their place. But we also need to be able to tell each other what’s up. What’s going on. If somebody’s, not necessarily stepping out of line. It’s, it’s, like, we’re all adults. Like, nobody’s being unreasonable. Or, but we need to be able to reel each other back in without getting our feelings hurt. Because ultimately it’s a joint venture, the goals are joint and for all of this to work and to come to fruition, the business needs to be healthy. Egos and feelings are put aside for that.

Emir (6:25-6:31): We still miss each other at the end of the day because we hang out.

Loryn (6:31-6:36): Yeah, like we hang out outside of work. It’s just like we haven’t seen each other in a while, and we see each other 24/7, but it doesn’t feel that way.

ET (6:36-6:39) : Emir and Edo’s dad also works at Balkan.

Loryn (6:39-6:40): Yeah, we have Baba. 

Edo (6:40-6:43): Yeah. He bakes bread with me in the morning. 

Loryn (6:43-6:54): Yeah. And he builds and fixes things. But he can really do anything. Yeah. He worked the line. He’s, like, done all the things. 

Edo (6:54-6:59):  Fixes the truck. Our cars. Anything.

Loryn (6:59-7:00): Our hearts. 

Emir (7:03-7:09): Everybody wants one of him at home. Yeah. 

Loryn (7:09-7:18): So Baba means dad. And everybody just calls him Baba. So, at work, everyone’s walking around going, Dad! Dad! Dad! It’s really funny. I just like that everybody calls him dad. 

Edo (7:18-7:19): I love it. 

Emir (7:19-7:22):Well, they thought it was his name. 

Loryn (7:22-7:25): Yeah, they didn’t realize that they were calling him dad.

Edo (7:25-7:29): And now he introduces himself as Baba. 

ET (7:30-7:37): If you’ve been to CITYPARK, St. Louis City SC’s new soccer stadium, you may have seen Balkan Treatbox there. Emir talked about how they got this gig.

Emir (7:37-8:12): Just when we were approached by the City, you know, the St. Louis City SC, that was a no brainer for us. We didn’t even, you know, think too much about it because we love soccer, Edo and I, and, you know, we grew up watching our dad play and then playing with our dad and, you know, like, everybody on the Balkans is crazy about soccer. It’s like, intense. So, we just couldn’t wait for the opportunity to be a part of history.

Edo (8:12-8:22): We got so excited, we wanted to be part of history, we wanted to be, um, like we want to look back and say, oh, we were there when the, it’s a major league sport, it’s a major league team.

ET (8:22-8:27): In addition to the excitement, there were also nerves surrounding what their menu would look like at CITYPARK.

Edo (8:27-8:35): It was really scary coming up with the menu item that we can execute given the equipment that we got. 

Loryn (8:35-8:50): Well it’s not just the equipment, but it’s just like the volume. What can you put out that’s going to be, have some quality to it in a situation where you’re serving something in under a minute to thousands of people.

Emir (8:50-8:58): We found out just recently that we sold 11,314 beef kebabs in the stadium.

Loryn (8:58-8:59): Yeah. That doesn’t even include the vegan ones. 

Emir (8:59-9:04): Yeah, so, and our item was the number one seller, and you know-

Edo (9:04-9:18): It’s really a big deal. Like to see all of that, uh, stress and, and, and worry and, excitement and hard work payoff, like you were, okay, it was worth it. Yeah. And it’s gonna entice us to push even more.

 ET (9:18-9:23): Beyond extending to the soccer stadium, they talked about another really exciting expansion of Balkan Treatbox.

Loryn (9:23-9:35): We’re working on a coffee shop named Telva at The Ridge inside of Rolling Ridge Nursery in Webster Groves. We’re working really hard to push and get Telva open. We’re not there yet, but it is, it’s coming soon. 

Emir (9:35-9:39): Yeah, if anybody needs a job, you know, let us know. 

Music interlude

ET (9:42-10:07): Thank you so much to Edo, Emir, and Loryn Nalic for taking the time to talk with me. Be sure to check out Balkan Treatbox at their original location in Webster Groves, inside CITYPARK, and now get excited to check out Telva once it opens. Stay tuned for future episodes of Eat St. Louis. In the meantime, head to to check out our current issue and other recent stories. For Student Life Media, I’m Emily Talkow.  

Music rights reserved for Kevin MacLeod

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