Photo by Steve Rice/Star Tribune.
Be’wiched Deli, the first-rate North Loop sandwich destination – and maker of the metro area’s most swoon-inducing pastrami – quietly closed earlier this week.
“It was a good run,” said chef/co-owner Mike Ryan. “Restaurants have life spans, and they close all the time. You have to evolve with the market. I’m a nine-dollar sandwich joint, not a twelve-dollar cocktail place.”
Unfortunately, both Be’wiched locations – the North Loop original, and its short-lived sibling in Plymouth – have called it quits. The North Loop location opened on Sept. 10, 2007.
"I sold a scone and a cup of coffee to a guy in a grey polo shirt as a first sale," said Ryan.
The closure is a major loss. When they opened their revolutionary counter-service outfit, Ryan and co-owner Matthew Bickford introduced a smart, seemingly recession-proof business plan: to channel the high-end culinary practices that they’d amassed in high-end kitchens (Restaurant Alma, La Belle Vie, D’Amico Cucina) into elevating the humble, taken-for-granted sandwich. It was fine-dining-meets-Subway.
By scrutinizing every detail in the sandwich-making process, from technique to ingredients, Be’wiched transformed an everyday staple into an occasion. The kitchen’s output radiated craftsmanship, and elegance, rarities in today’s Jimmy John’s/Potbelly universe.
Along with that peppery, house-smoked pastrami (which was also the star in a critically acclaimed weekend egg-harissa sandwich, pictured, above, in a Star Tribune file photo), the kitchen made magic with all kinds of staples, from turkey to smoked ham to egg salad.
Two standouts were the transformation of the workaday tuna salad sandwich, which relied upon a confit of sushi-grade fish. The pulled pork sandwich, the tender, spiced-up, molasses-brushed meat piled high on a dream of an onion bun, will long be the standard by which others are (or, at least, should be) measured. It’s no wonder that Be’wiched developed a busy catering operation, with revenues that eventually exceeded its retail counterparts.
Ryan and Bickford weren’t just culinary pioneers. When they opened Be’wiched in 2007, they were forward-thinking in their choice of real estate (that's the restaurant's North Loop location, pictured, above).
“Now the North Loop is the most competitive restaurant neighborhood in the state,” said Ryan. “Don’t get me wrong, the neighborhood is great. But gentrification is real, and cool little places are being pushed out by higher rents. That’s a market condition, and I’m not immune to it.”
The pair expanded to Eat Street in 2012, but rather than clone Be’wiched, they opened Icehouse, a music-focused venue. Bickford eventually took over that property's operations, and Ryan concentrated on Be’wiched. Icehouse remains open, where Ryan continues to be an equal partner.
After Ryan deals with the details of the restaurants’ closure – making the final payroll, paying the last of the sales taxes – he’s moving ahead.
“I’ve loved being my own boss for these past 10 years, it’s the best job I’ve ever had,” he said. “But I’m not too proud to work for someone else. Shake Shack is opening near Southdale, and you can bet that they’re going to get my resume. It’s a very well-run company, with a great product, and I can get behind that.”