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End of a (sandwich) era as Be'wiched Deli closes in North Loop and Plymouth

 

Photo by Steve Rice/Star Tribune.

 

Goodbye, pastrami. 

Be’wiched Deli, the first-rate North Loop sandwich destination – and maker of the metro area’s most swoon-inducing pastrami – quietly closed earlier this week.

“It was a good run,” said chef/co-owner Mike Ryan. “Restaurants have life spans, and they close all the time. You have to evolve with the market. I’m a nine-dollar sandwich joint, not a twelve-dollar cocktail place.”

Unfortunately, both Be’wiched locations – the North Loop original, and its short-lived sibling in Plymouth – have called it quits. The North Loop location opened on Sept. 10, 2007.

"I sold a scone and a cup of coffee to a guy in a grey polo shirt as a first sale," said Ryan.

The closure is a major loss. When they opened their revolutionary counter-service outfit, Ryan and co-owner Matthew Bickford introduced a smart, seemingly recession-proof business plan: to channel the high-end culinary practices that they’d amassed in high-end kitchens (Restaurant Alma, La Belle Vie, D’Amico Cucina) into elevating the humble, taken-for-granted sandwich. It was fine-dining-meets-Subway.

By scrutinizing every detail in the sandwich-making process, from technique to ingredients, Be’wiched transformed an everyday staple into an occasion. The kitchen’s output radiated craftsmanship, and elegance, rarities in today’s Jimmy John’s/Potbelly universe.

Along with that peppery, house-smoked pastrami (which was also the star in a critically acclaimed weekend egg-harissa sandwich, pictured, above, in a Star Tribune file photo), the kitchen made magic with all kinds of staples, from turkey to smoked ham to egg salad.

Two standouts were the transformation of the workaday tuna salad sandwich, which relied upon a confit of sushi-grade fish. The pulled pork sandwich, the tender, spiced-up, molasses-brushed meat piled high on a dream of an onion bun, will long be the standard by which others are (or, at least, should be) measured. It’s no wonder that Be’wiched developed a busy catering operation, with revenues that eventually exceeded its retail counterparts. 

Ryan and Bickford weren’t just culinary pioneers. When they opened Be’wiched in 2007, they were forward-thinking in their choice of real estate (that's the restaurant's North Loop location, pictured, above). 

“Now the North Loop is the most competitive restaurant neighborhood in the state,” said Ryan. “Don’t get me wrong, the neighborhood is great. But gentrification is real, and cool little places are being pushed out by higher rents. That’s a market condition, and I’m not immune to it.”

The pair expanded to Eat Street in 2012, but rather than clone Be’wiched, they opened Icehouse, a music-focused venue. Bickford eventually took over that property's operations, and Ryan concentrated on Be’wiched. Icehouse remains open, where Ryan continues to be an equal partner. 

After Ryan deals with the details of the restaurants’ closure – making the final payroll, paying the last of the sales taxes – he’s moving ahead.

“I’ve loved being my own boss for these past 10 years, it’s the best job I’ve ever had,” he said. “But I’m not too proud to work for someone else. Shake Shack is opening near Southdale, and you can bet that they’re going to get my resume. It’s a very well-run company, with a great product, and I can get behind that.”

Lyn-Lake's 4-star Heyday being reinvented as two restaurants

Change is good, right?

That’s Heyday chef/co-owner Jim Christiansen’s belief, because his four-star Lyn-Lake restaurant, which opened in 2014, is about to undergo a significant transformation.

“We’ve seen business decline a bit in this fourth year, and so it’s time for a change,” he said. “Most restaurants change over time, and in hindsight, you need to have a plan, and I didn’t have a plan.”

He does now.

“Over these four years, we’ve learned a lot about the space,” said Christiansen. “It’s too big for one entity. We want to find the space’s potential.”

The solution: splitting the restaurant’s footprint. The too-spacious bar is going to become its own stand-alone restaurant, with its own kitchen, and its own to-be-determined name. Right now, Christiansen is toying with the idea of creating a casual, neighborhood-focused concept, one that’s rotating and perhaps seasonally inspired.

“That way, if it’s boring, or people don’t like it, we’ll change it,” he said.

His current impulse is to dive deep into the world of Spanish tapas and ciders.

“I just miss Solera so much,” he said. “I don’t understand why we don’t have Spanish restaurants in this town, because it’s such a great cuisine. It’s food that I love to eat and I love to cook.”

Meanwhile, Christiansen (pictured, above, in a Star Tribune file photo) hasn’t worked out details on how he’s going forward with Heyday’s dining room, although it will remain a showcase for the boundary-pushing, idiosyncratic cooking that landed him on the cover of Food & Wine in 2015, as a member of the magazine’s rarefied Best New Chefs fraternity.

“We have so many great regulars,” said Christiansen. “We just don’t have enough to sustain 120 seats.”

Which is why he’s toying with the idea of following the model that has been such a success at Tenant in south Minneapolis, where diners reserve a spot for a limited seating, fixed-price dinner.

“I’ve not been to Tenant, but I know that it’s busy all the time, there’s a lot of demand for those seats,” he said. “A business needs to be busy, right? I like the predictability and the control of that model, that’s very intriguing. It’s frustrating, because we can have a million people in here one night, and the next night it’ll be zero, which makes no sense.”

Although he hasn’t decided on whether to retain the Heyday name, this much he does know: the dining room will have an entrance that’s separate from what is currently the Heyday bar, and both spaces will undergo some aesthetic alterations. Heyday’s current iteration will serve its last meal on June 9.

“Then we’re getting our heads together,” said Christiansen. “We don’t have any real dates yet, but we’re toying with a late September opening. Business has always been good then. The kids are back in school, and the State Fair is over.”

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