Michael Kutscheid and chef Patrick Atanalian in 2008./Star Tribune file

We’re just a few hours into 2020, and the restaurant industry’s Grim Reaper is already at work.

After serving New Year’s Eve dinner, Sanctuary (903 Washington Av. S., Mpls.) quietly closed its doors.

“It has been a pleasure serving you!” said a posting on Facebook. “We will miss you. But we wish you a Happy New Year from the bottoms of our hearts.”

The charming, forward-thinking restaurant had a good run, opening in 2007 in the first floor of a restored 19th-century structure near the Guthrie Theater. From the beginning there was a familiar face in the cozy stone-and-timber dining room: co-owner Michael Kutscheid, a longtime host-with-the-most presence in Twin Cities restaurants.

Although the opening chef was Gary Stenberg, he was quickly replaced by Patrick Atanalian, a French expat with New French Cafe, Loring Cafe and other top-shelf names on his resume. 

Atanalian remained until late 2017, a decade-long tenure of turning out whimsical, quirky and seasonally-minded fare in what was surely one of the smallest commercial kitchens in the five-state area.

A draw – and a role model for other Twin Cities restaurants – was the kitchen’s five-course, $35 tasting menu, which Atanalian used as a laboratory for his ever-changing menus. Atanalian (who spent part of 2019 breathing new life into the Normandy Kitchen before moving on from that gig) made a cameo appearance in the Sanctuary kitchen on New Year’s Eve for that final dinner service.

In an everything-old-is-new-again move, Stenberg returned to the restaurant after Atanalian’s departure. The restaurant’s final chef was Marc Paavola, a talented veteran of the former Craftsman.

The closing is the second in the neighborhood in recent weeks. The lights went out at 14-year-old Spoonriver on Dec. 21. It will be replaced by a collaborative effort between the Birchwood Cafe and the Minnesota Farmers Union. No word on what will happen with the Sanctuary space.

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