Justin Sutherland seems to be everywhere these days. The Handsome Hog chef was recently named managing partner of a slew of St. Paul restaurants. And he’s currently beaming into homes weekly as a contestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef.”
But one place he isn’t: Minneapolis.
That will change in 2019, when his Stillwater restaurant relocates to downtown Minneapolis, Sutherland said.
The Southern-tinged Pearl & the Thief will shutter in Stillwater Dec. 31, just as the winter doldrums slow down tourism in the scenic day-trip town. The owners of Lolo American Kitchen in Stillwater and Hudson, Wis., which have a minority stake in Pearl & the Thief, will convert the space into a Latin street food restaurant called Lolito by the end of January.
Expect a Minneapolis opening of Pearl & the Thief around July 1 at a still-undisclosed location. Sutherland would only hint that it’s new construction.
“A lot of stars just aligned and it kind of made sense,” Sutherland said.
He said he was “approached by a few different people in Minneapolis that had been looking for me to open a restaurant in Minneapolis.” But with so much else going on in his other roles, “I was not in a position, nor desire, to start a new concept whatsoever.”
Enter Pearl & the Thief, the oysters and whiskey spot that opened just this past summer.
Things were going well there, Sutherland said. He’s just busy.
“I love spending time cooking on the line at Pearl two or three times a week, and I didn’t want to stop doing that,” he said. But after taking the helm of eight other restaurants, “it started to be harder to be in multiple places.”
The new restaurant will be a little closer to home. Plus, it’s closer to the palates he wants to be cooking for — city dwellers.
“Our opening menu we have continually scaled back based on the clientele” in Stillwater, Sutherland said. Head-on prawns quickly become head-off. Foie gras didn’t sell.
“Nobody wants heads on things, nobody wants raw stuff, a lot of the adventurous things I think will go over better in Minneapolis.”
The color palette and design will transfer. So will much of the staff, which have all been offered jobs at either Lolo or the eight restaurants Sutherland oversees in St. Paul. Chef de cuisine Brandon Randolph will make a pit stop at St. Paul Mediterranean restaurant Shish before moving to the Minneapolis Pearl & the Thief.
As for the Stillwater space, look for small plates inspired by the food of the Yucatán Peninsula and drinks with mezcal, tequila and rum, said Lolito co-owner Joe Ehlenz.
“It’ll be different than Pearl. A little bit more fast casual,” he said. Upstairs, a private party space will also serve late-night tacos and happy hour.
Meanwhile, Sutherland continues to vie for a $125,000 prize on “Top Chef.” Watching has been “weird,” he said.
“It’s weird hearing your voice on TV. I’m seeing it for the first time everybody else is seeing it. Although I lived it, I never know what’s going to make the final cut.”
With his newfound celebrity plus the restaurant changeup, “2018 has been an absolute whirlwind,” he said. “And it doesn’t seem like 2019 is going to slow down.”