Truly, it’s the end of an era.
Jim and Patty Grell announced that they have sold their Modern Cafe. The buyer's identity remains a mystery, and Jim Grell wasn’t revealing the new ownership’s plans for the restaurant.
“They’re going to make their own announcement,” he said.
The Grells opened their modern-day diner on Aug. 8, 1994, in the former Rabatin’s, a 1940s landmark diner in northeast Minneapolis. In the intervening years, the value-conscious restaurant has played a defining role in the Twin Cities’ move towards casual neighborhood dining, drawing legions of fans for its contemporary renditions of blue-plate fare, including a legendary pot roast that sells to the tune of 500 pounds per week. The restaurant's popularity also proved to be a catalyst in the neighborhood's revival.
The restaurant will remain in the Grells’ hands until March 14. “It’ll be the normal deal until next Saturday night,” said Jim Grell (pictured, above, in a Nov. 1994 Star Tribune file photo).
The couple has quietly had the Modern on the market for a number of months. “The restaurant is 20, and I just turned 50, and I’m old, and I’m tired,” said Jim Grell. “We’re not failing. I just don’t want to be doing this when I’m 60.”
Twenty years is a practically a century in the world of restaurants. “We were just laughing about how, when we opened, we didn’t have a phone, because we couldn’t afford it,” said Jim Grell. “We had a pay phone, and I used to take quarters out of the register when I had to make a call. I got a quarter, called [former Star Tribune restaurant critic] Jeremy Iggers and said, ‘Hey, I just opened a restaurant, and we want you to write about it.’”
The Modern’s impossibly tiny kitchen has been the stomping grounds for a number of influential Twin Cities chefs, including Mike Phillips (now the owner of Red Table Meat Co.), Scott Pampuch (former chef/owner of Corner Table, now at the University of Minnesota) and Phillip Becht (now at Victor’s on Water).Chef Ella Wesenberg currently runs the kitchen, and the restaurant's menu is as compelling as the day the doors opened.
When asked what he plans to do post-sale, Grell, ever the quote machine, had a typical Grell-ish response.
“I’ve been in contact with Jon Stewart and Lucia Watson, and we’re forming a band,” he said, referring to the soon-to-depart host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” and the founder of Lucia’s Restaurant, who sold her 30-year Uptown establishment last December. What will he do in the band? “Whatever Lucia tells me to do,” he said. “She's my hero.”