At the heart of the sale and resurrection of the storied Lexington Restaurant — beyond the talk of food and decor and even keeping the iconic chicken potpie on the menu — is a simple fact: A longtime St. Paul restaurant is being rebooted by St. Paul people.
New owners who say they have a deep appreciation for the tradition that oozes from the restaurant on Thursday also offered a vision of innovation and excellence they hope will draw new life and excitement to the corner of Grand Avenue and Lexington Parkway.
Using the Lexington’s historic Williamsburg Room as a backdrop, the new co-owners, the architect and even the mayor of St. Paul talked about how, by year’s end, they expect a physically transformed restaurant will combine the best of St. Paul’s old with St. Paul’s new.
Chef Jack Riebel, who grew up a few blocks away and graduated from St. Paul Central and St. Paul College, called the Lex “such a legendary place.” Yet, he sees happy hours bustling with new diners drawn to great food, good conversation and lively entertainment. And they’re keeping the potpie, he said.
To co-owner Josh Thoma, who also owns the popular Smack Shack in Minneapolis with Lex partner Kevin Fitzgerald, old and new can thrive. “We want to maintain the legacy while setting the Lexington up for a successful future,” he said. “Being St. Paul boys, this is really a driver for us.”
New will be a rooftop patio with liquor service, Thoma confirmed. The city had approved outdoor liquor service under the Lexington’s previous owners, but it never materialized.
Fitzgerald, who lives three blocks from the Lex, said the new team understands the challenges it faces. It must appeal to lifelong patrons who marked special occasions with a Lexington meal or cocktail, while luring a younger, hipper, more gastro-savvy generation.
“The Lex is the Lex,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s going to be great. But we have a lot of work to do.”
While Thursday’s announcement at the restaurant drew several neighbors who said they are happy about the coming transformation, plans for a rooftop patio are fueling anxiety. Maureen and Pat Flahaven, who have lived behind the Lex for 41 years, worry that late-night revelry will pour through their second-floor windows on warm summer nights.
“We’re excited about the new owners,” Maureen Flahaven said. “But bar service until 2 a.m.? There just wasn’t this kind of activity upstairs before.”
While much remains to be worked out, Mayor Chris Coleman on Thursday lent his enthusiasm to the project, as one St. Paul guy to three others. As with so many other families, he said, the Lex has been woven into the fabric of the Coleman family for generations. “We’re just so excited to have a new team in place,” he said. “And the great thing about it is these guys have St. Paul deep in their blood.”