Although Marin Restaurant & Bar is going to disappear on Monday, chef Mike Rakun isn’t going anywhere.
On Feb. 20, Rakun (pictured, above, in a Star Tribune file photo) is converting the nutrition-conscious restaurant, located in the Le Meridien Chambers hotel in downtown Minneapolis, into a new concept he’s christening Mercy.
“It’s going to be a neighborhood restaurant for downtown,” he said. “I love downtown, and I want to make it a restaurant where I’d want to go. We’ll serve American food, simple but executed to the nines. I don’t like ‘tweezer’ food, that’s not me.”
Rakun has been Marin's executive chef since the day the doors opened in 2013. The breakfast-lunch-dinner format will remain; it’s a hotel restaurant, after all. Rakun is still working out menu details, but he noted that the menu will include a burger at dinner, a sign that he’s taking the restaurant, a popular venue for Hennepin Avenue theatergoers, in a far more casual direction.
He’s also pulling the plug on the kitchen’s pizza oven. Well, as a vehicle for making pizzas, anyway.
“I’m toying with the idea of using the pizza oven for whole-roasted items,” he said. Another possibility? Seasonal crabs, a passion he developed during a stint in Florida.
This much is certain: there will be an oyster bar, with a changes-daily roster of nine to 12 varieties.
“I love oysters,” said Rakun. “They’re the ultimate expression of terroir.”
Mercy will also continue to manage the hotel’s room service operations and events catering.
“When there’s not much happening downtown, that’s the stuff that helps keep the lights on,” said Rakun.
The project has been in the works for more than a year. The hotel, which is under the management of Starwood Hotels, was sold in mid-2015 to Dallas-based Ashford Hospitality Trust.
“That’s when Craig [Bentdahl, Marin’s majority owner] turned to me and said, ‘My heart isn’t in it anymore,’” said Rakun. “I immediately said to him, ‘Sell it to me.’”
He did. Rakun remains connected to Bentdahl’s six-year-old Mill Valley Kitchen in St. Louis Park (where he was the first local chef to publish nutritional information on his menu), but only tangentially.
“I’m a minority shareholder,” he said. “I’m out of the day-to-day management, and I don’t spend much time there.”
The Marin/Mercy space might be the city’s most frequently flipped food-and-beverage property.
Its story begins in 2004, when a group of investors led by real estate magnate Ralph Burnet announced their intent to transform the down-and-out, 96-year-old Fairmont Hotel into a $14 million, 24-room boutique hotel.
(Factoid of the day: La Belle Vie, which was then in downtown Stillwater, was slated to be the original restaurant tenant, filling a space long occupied, to the consternation of downtown boosters, by an adult bookstore. La Belle Vie eventually landed at the 510 Groveland building, where it enjoyed a 10-year run.)
Within a year, the proposed project had expanded into an adjacent building, doubling in both size and budget. When the property finally debuted in 2006, its restaurant, Chambers Kitchen, was the work of international star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
By 2009, Vongerichten had departed, and was replaced by local powerhouse D’Amico and Partners. The company’s D’Amico Kitchen lasted until 2013, when Marin Restaurant & Bar took over.
The Mercy remake is being designed by Minneapolis-based Shea, which is more than familiar with the 9th-and-Hennepin space; the firm previously designed Chambers Kitchen and Marin.
“We’re going to do the full Monty,” said Rakun. “We’ll be gutting the upstairs [the restaurant’s street level], and making it comfortable, and casual, and approachable. It’s going to have a Minnesota/North Woods feel, but without going to pine furniture. It's going to playful. I've got to have fun. I'm there every day."
During what Rakun anticipates to be a five- to six-week construction project, diners will be served in the lower-level Library lounge.
Rakun's investment in the restaurant is a boost for Hennepin, which has endured the recent closings of Rosa Mexicano, Mason's and American Burger Bar. As for “Mercy,” it’s Rakun’s five-year-old daughter’s name.
Look for an early April grand opening.