Sure, restaurants come, and they go. But the parade of departures that have characterized the past 12 months could easily brand 2017 as the Year of the Closed Restaurant.
There’s no one overriding reason why so many restaurants called it quits this year. A more competitive environment, sure. But other decisions were driven by lost leases, career changes, ill-conceived formats, undercapitalized balance sheets, overexpansion, exhaustion, death, less-than-desirable locations, rising costs and/or some combination thereof.
Major chunks of Twin Cities dining history were extinguished. January saw the demise of the Oak Grill and Skyroom when Macy’s chose to exit its downtown Minneapolis store, both just a few months shy of their 70th birthdays. St. Clair Broiler went dark in September after a 61-year run, and Pepito’s Mexican Grill will end 46 years in business on Dec. 31.
Forty-year-old Muffuletta, the start of the influential Parasole Restaurant Holdings empire, closed in November. Third-generation Wong Cafe, a Rice Street institution dating back to the 1920s, said “goodbye” in April. Oh, and decades-old pizzerias called it quits: the original homes of Red’s Savoy in St. Paul and Dulono’s in Minneapolis, as well as the longtime Uptown outlets of the Green Mill and Davanni’s.
The distressing demise of a number of top-rated restaurants — Piccolo, Upton 43, Brewer’s Table, Parma 8200, the Strip Club, HauteDish, Birdie, Victory 44, Coup d’état, Victor’s on Water and Mozza Mia — is also a cause for concern.
Influential Bradstreet Neighborhood Craftshouse departed in May, with the promise of returning next year in new digs at the InterContinental Hotel now under construction at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
All three Espresso Royale locations — early players (as in, pre-Starbucks) in the coffeehouse culture — are leaving by year’s end. Speaking of Starbucks, the company is pulling the plug on its Teavana chain; most of its nearly 400 locations — including seven in the Twin Cities — will be closed by next spring.
Also closed? Evergreen, Arnellia’s, Reverie Cafe, Tanpopo, Obento-Ya, Jerusalem’s, Butcher Block, Wayzata’s Lunds & Byerly’s Kitchen, Prairie Dogs, the original location of Pimento Jamaican Kitchen in Burnsville Center, Taste of Love, SW Craft Bar (aka Senor Wong), Bonefish Grill, Craftsman, World Cafe, Como Dockside, Bombay Bistro, Golden’s Deli, Wild Tymes, Toast Wine Bar, Bento Box, Mesa Pizza in Stadium Village, the Library and Thanh Do.
In 2017, a disturbing new trend appeared: restaurants debuting and departing within a year, including Bottle Rocket, Byte, Hennepin Steam Room, Original on 42, Rustica Cookies & Cream, Scratch Burgers and Beer and the topper, Bearcat Bar, which fizzled after just 37 days.
Some restaurateurs used 2017 as the time to reboot their properties. Mike Rakun flipped Marin Restaurant & Bar into Mercy, and Michael McDermott did the same thing, twice: first converting Ling & Louie’s into Randle’s Restaurant & Bar and then switching Lou Nanne’s into Tavern 23.
For many, the toughest farewell was Lucia’s Restaurant. Uptown’s gracious farm-to-table institution struggled after founder (and three-time James Beard nominee) Lucia Watson sold it in late 2014, particularly after the new ownership lost an adjacent and highly convenient parking lot. Perhaps we can take comfort in Watson’s sanguine reaction to her namesake’s demise.
“That little restaurant had a really great run,” she told the Star Tribune in early October. “Those guys — Alan [Bergo, the restaurant’s executive chef] in particular — worked really hard to keep it Lucia’s. But all things come to an end, right?”
Location, location, location
When one restaurant closes, another one is often there to quickly take its place, proved by these 2017 transformations.
Bulldog NE — The Stray Dog
Cafe Maude — Book Club
Flame — Crave
Game Sports Bar — Lotus
Grand Cafe — Grand Cafe
Heartland Restaurant & Wine Bar — Market House Collaborative
Krungthep Thai — Khun Nai Thai
La Belle Vie — 510 Lounge & Private Dining
The Lexington — The Lexington
Loring Pasta Bar — Loring Rx
Mill City Cafe — Bushel & Peck
Mona — Tavern 333
Marche — Mercado by Earl Giles
Piccolo — Tenant
Prairie Dogs — Emperor of India
Ristorante Luci — Bar Brigade
Sunrise Inn — Bull’s Horn Food & Drink
Tanpopo — Kyatchi
Third Bird — Bearcat — The Bird
Trotter’s Cafe and Bakery — Tillie’s Farmhouse
Upton 43 — Martina