The restaurant space inside the Hotel Ivy – formerly known as Porter & Frye, and dark for the past two weeks – is getting a new operator.

Jester Concepts, the fast-growing enterprise behind Borough, Parlour, Coup d’etat and Marche, announced this morning that it is taking over the space and rebranding it as a “coastal Italian” restaurant, along with a lobby bar and low-level cocktail destination.

The company has recruited La Belle Vie chef de cuisine Mike DeCamp to run the kitchen. DeCamp has long been a key figure at the state’s top fine-dining establishment and has worked with La Belle Vie chef Tim McKee for the bulk of his career.

DeCamp was a teenager when he started working at the restaurant’s original Stillwater location in the late 1990s, and after a stint in Chicago he returned to the Twin Cities in 2005 to open La Belle Vie’s posh quarters in the 510 Groveland building in Minneapolis. He has been there ever since, and has been McKee's chef de cuisine for the past eight years.

It will be fascinating (and no doubt delicious) to watch the gifted DeCamp (pictured, above, in the La Belle Vie kitchen in a 2012 Star Tribune file photo) step out on his own after such a long, happy and successful association with McKee, who is once again proving his mettle as a mentor to a new generation of Twin Cities chefs. 

(DeCamp maintains a lively social media presence. If you’re not following him on Twitter, you should be.)

The bar program will be developed by Jester’s Jesse Held and managed by bartender Jeff Erkkila. Michelle Massey, a Bachelor Farmer veteran, is the project’s general manager.

The project – still unnamed – involves a complete makeover of the problematic Porter & Frye space. ESG Architects of Minneapolis is adding a new street entrance and a patio for the restaurant, and is eliminating a large staircase between the dining room and what will become the lower-level cocktail bar.

Porter & Frye’s brief 2008 heyday was the stuff of legend. The chefs working in that talent incubator of a kitchen have gone on to operate some of the Twin Cities’ top restaurants, including Steven Brown (Tilia), Doug Flicker (Piccolo) and Mike Brown and James Winberg (Travail Kitchen and Amusements). Erik Anderson and Jamie Malone both went on to run Sea Change and are now developing Brut.

In the restaurant’s post-Brown era, the kitchen was staffed by Joan Ida (formerly of Goodfellow’s) and Sara Master (now at Barbette).

As for La Belle Vie, DeCamp’s departure is the latest in a year-long string of major players, including barkeep Johnny Michaels (who went on to develop a bar menu for McKee’s Libertine), manager Bill Summerville and pastry chef Diane Yang (both are now gracing Spoon and Stable; Yang was replaced by Niki Francioli, formerly of Brasserie Zentral and Sea Change, and Summerville has been replaced by Matthew Anderson) but turnover is an inevitability in the industry, and it gives restaurant-watchers something to discuss as staff members move on and kitchens, bars and dining rooms evolve.

A late spring opening is planned, just in time to go up against a second downtown Italian newcomer, Il Foro, the remake of the Forum Cafeteria space.

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