For the third time in less than a year, restaurateurs are buying St. Paul’s storied but shuttered Lexington Restaurant. This time, however, the deal apparently is solid enough to warrant a news conference later this week for more details.
Josh Thoma, who owns the popular Smack Shack in Minneapolis’ North Loop with Kevin Fitzgerald, said Monday that he was “super excited” about purchasing the Lex, long a favorite St. Paul steak-and-seafood spot for family celebrations, political schmoozing and corporate shindigs.
“When it came up we knew that we had to do it,” Thoma said. “Any time that you’re given the opportunity to update and revitalize a historic landmark, well, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Thoma and Fitzgerald are partnering with acclaimed local chef Jack Riebel, who in January left the Butcher & the Boar in downtown Minneapolis and previously had run the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant and La Belle Vie in Stillwater. Riebel was nominated last year for a James Beard Award as best chef in the Midwest.
“We’re very excited to have Jack as our business partner,” said Thoma. “I think he’s one of the most talented chefs in town. I very much enjoyed working with him in the past and look forward to a long-lasting partnership.”
The Lexington has been owned for the past three years by John and Michelle Hickey and Ed and Jenni Ryan. Michelle Hickey declined to comment Monday on the sale, as did the real estate agent who handled the property.
Last spring, the Hickeys and the Ryans won the city’s approval for outdoor liquor service subject to conditions. They wanted to open a rooftop patio with a bar to boost sales during warm-weather months, when business typically slowed.
But neighbors strenuously objected, and before long the owners agreed to sell to another St. Paul restaurant partnership. The Lex closed May 31 with plans to reopen in the fall, but the deal fell through a short time later.
Then the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reported last month that Rick Webb, who owned the Lex in the 1990s, had tried to buy it back before the sale fizzled.
Lou Bartholome, who lives across the alley from the Lexington’s rear parking lot, said he was pleased to hear the restaurant may soon reopen. But he hopes the new owners will remember they have neighbors and limit the evening hours when drinks are served outside, he said.
“We want the restaurant to be successful. We just want the owners to keep in mind that it’s a mixed-use neighborhood.”
It wasn’t clear Monday what plans the new owners may have for outdoor dining; more information will be released at a news conference planned Thursday at the restaurant.
“We plan on doing updates, revitalizing the existing dining rooms and bar programs. But that’s all we’re talking about for now,” Thoma said.