Cue the tears: Wild Rice is closing.
The Bayfield, Wis., restaurant, one of the Midwest's great culinary destinations, announced that this summer will be its last.
"After 16 years of being By the Water, In the Woods, On Lake Superior, we announce that Saturday, Oct. 14th will be the last day of service to the public who have supported us faithfully through all of these seasons," reads the message on the restaurant's website.
Owner Mary Rice opened Wild Rice in 2001, a mainland follow-up to her first fine-dining operation in the tourist-magnet region, the former Clubhouse on Madeline Island. (Rice also owns Bayfield's casual Maggie's, and operated the breakfast-focused Egg Toss for nearly 21 years; she recently sold it). The restaurant's name is a play on Rice's last name, as well as a tribute to Zizania palustris, or wild rice, the staple of region's ecology and food economy. Bayfield is located about four hours northeast of the Twin Cities.
A key to the restaurant's enduring popularity is its impressive, long-serving leadership. Chef Jim Webster (pictured, above, in a 2010 Star Tribune file photo) has been at the helm at Wild Rice for the restaurant's entire run, and was the force in the Clubhouse kitchen from 1983 to 2000. As a measure of his excellence, Webster has racked up four semifinalist nods for the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef: Midwest award, in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2014. General manager Randy Anderson has a similarly lengthy and distinguished tenure.
"Jim and Randy plus our entire staff will be here to provide you with the dedication to excellence you’ve come to enjoy," notes the website's message.
Wild Rice is not just a memorable food-and-drink experience, it's also a distinguished and beloved architectural landmark, the work of Duluth architect David Salmela. Shortly after the doors opened, Star Tribune architecture critic Linda Mack wrote this appreciation:
"David Salmela, in his first restaurant commission, has created a work of genius equal to the culinary feasts offered by the restaurant team of owner Mary Rice, chef Jim Webster and sommelier Randy Anderson. The designers, including Minneapolis landscape architects Coen + Stumpf [now Coen + Partners] and graphic designers Sassafras Design, have melded the best of two worlds: an attention to detail worthy of the top Parisian restaurants and a style as American as its eponymous food, wild rice. It's a shame this team doesn't have another project in the offing. They could revolutionize eating in America."
They certainly revolutioned dining in region, creating and sustaining a fine-dining experience in a rural setting that is the equal of its urban counterparts. And following the trend in cities across the U.S., including Minneapolis-St. Paul, that fine-dining experience is disappearing.
There's hope for the extraordinary facility, which is located on a wooded site on the bluffs above Lake Superior.
"As this final chapter of Wild Rice Restaurant ends Wild Rice Reborn begins," reads the website's message. "Wild Rice is exploring a partnership with Artspace, to be reborn as A Center for Arts and Well Being. Artspace is the nation’s leading nonprofit developer of arts facilities. We feel Artspace will be a wonderful compliment to this beautiful building and the arts community of Chequamegon Bay."
Stay tuned. In the meantime, pick up the phone and make a reservation.