Tough news: Brasserie Zentral is closing.

“This industry has always been hard,” said chef/co-owner Russell Klein. “But right now, it has never been harder.”

On paper, Zentral read like a can’t-miss prospect: in a region noted for its large numbers of residents with German and Eastern European ancestry, a high-end restaurant that focused on the flavors and culinary traditions of Austria, Hungary and other nearby regions. And co-owners Russell and Desta Klein translated that business plan in to a beautiful and exciting reality. But the crowds didn’t materialize, at least not to the extent required to financially sustain the operation.

Klein and his spouse Desta Klein, co-owners of Meritage in St. Paul, opened Zentral in April 2014 as one component of a very ambitious four-part culinary operation, one that sprawled across three floors of the historic Soo Line Building at 5th Street and Marquette Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.

Other elements included Foreign Legion, a casual, wine-centric bar and cafe; Cafe Zentral, a skyway-level breakfast/lunch counter; and a wine shop.

The wine shop never materialized, and its real estate was eventually folded into Foreign Legion. In October, the Kleins sold Cafe Zentral to general manager Robert Whitney and chef Alejandro Cerdas-Monge, who re-branded the business as World Cafe.

Foreign Legion – with its pasta and pizza emphasis -- will remain open, and Russell Klein said the restaurant will honor any un-redeemed Brasserie Zentral gift cards.

The announcement comes on the heels of other significant high-profile Minneapolis closures, including La Belle Vie and Vincent. Brasserie Zentral received four (out of four) stars from the Star Tribune, and was the newspaper’s 2014 Restaurant of the Year. It was also named Outstanding Restaurant by the 2014 Charlie Awards.

“We are incredibly proud of the hard work so many of our staff put into Zentral these past two years to make it a great restaurant,” said Russell Klein in a statement. “These past few years have been some of the most competitive and difficult our industry has ever faced. To win multiple restaurant of the year awards in that environment was no small thing, and it is a tribute to the many great people who made Zentral work every day. Unfortunately the restaurant never achieved the financial success necessary to continue operating.”

The restaurant’s last day is Saturday, January 16. Hurry in. That’s just one more week for Russell Klein's inspired, ripped-from-his-heritage cooking, including quark spaetzle with braised rabbit (pictured, above), boiled beef shoulder with bone marrow, weisswurst with caraway sauerkraut, veal schnitzel, foie gras terrine in a Hungarian white wine aspic and cabbage rolls stuffed with kamut berries. What a depressing loss for the city’s – and the country’s -- dining scene.

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