Chef Vincent Francoual is calling it quits at Vincent, the eponymous French restaurant that has anchored the prominent corner of 11th Street and Nicollet Mall for 14 years.
“I’ve been rethinking my life and, after a lot of reflection, I’ve basically just decided to move on to something new,” he said. “This is more of a life decision than a business decision. It’s a bittersweet thing, yes, but it’s not sad. Let’s put some perspective on this. Sad is cancer. Sad is bodies of refugees washing up on the shore in Greece.”
The restaurant’s last day is Dec. 31.
“In this business, we’re defined by our restaurants, and that’s a bit crazy,” said Francoual. “We can be French and [whine] about it, or be American and realize that our life, our society, is about change.”
Twin Cities diners are currently enjoying a record number of restaurant openings, but another prevailing 2015 trend is a spate of high-profile restaurant closings.
The fraternity includes the Modern Cafe (20 years), Solera (11 years), Sapor Cafe and Bar (15 years), Pracna on Main (42 years), Tryg’s (10 years), the Blue Point Restaurant & Oyster Bar (30 years) and the Four Inns (45 years).
In addition, Masa (10 years) and four-star La Belle Vie (17 years) are both closing on Oct. 24.
The charming Francoual, who has long had “Le Grand Fromage” (“the Big Cheese”) monogrammed onto his chef’s jacket (and his Twitter account is @BigCheeseMpls), insists that while the white tablecloth restaurant segment of the business “isn’t easy,” his decision to pull the plug doesn’t fit the model of many recent closings.
Outside Vincent’s front door, Nicollet Mall is undergoing a disruptive, multiyear remake, but Francoual said his decision to close was not related to road construction, a chronic restaurant killer.
He also noted that issues cited by other recently shuttered or soon-to-depart restaurants — increased competition, cost pressures from the boost in the minimum wage, opposition to the proposed Working Families Agenda currently before the Minneapolis City Council — did not play a role in his decision, either.
“I have my ideas about them, of course,” he said. “But business is OK; we’re doing OK. We’re not running out of cash and have to close this week. It’s not that. This is a personal decision.”
Francoual informed his staff of 30 on Wednesday afternoon.
“The hardest part is that a lot of people’s lives are going to be impacted,” he said. “We have people who have been with us almost since the beginning. They become a family. And I want to be able to take the time to say goodbye to our customers. You start a restaurant, you become part of the community.”
As for Francoual’s next endeavor, “that’s something I’ll say later,” he said, although he noted that he and his fiancée and their young daughter are remaining in the Twin Cities.
“I’m still ambitious, but I’m ready for something new,” he said. “I’m not changing careers, for sure. I love the restaurant business. It’s draining, but it’s rewarding. But every day is a new story.”
A native of southwestern France, Francoual landed in the U.S. in his mid-20s, with $600 in his pocket. He was 29 when he arrived in Minneapolis in 1998 and made an immediate splash at the former Cafe Un Deux Trois.
Three years later, Francoual launched Vincent, and the combination of skilled French cooking, accomplished service and an urbane setting quickly catapulted the restaurant to the upper reaches of the local dining scene.
Its proximity to Orchestra Hall has long made the restaurant a popular destination for concert ticket holders, and the restaurant’s kitchen table helped ignite a local dining trend.
Over the years, Francoual, now a U.S. citizen, began inserting American culinary customs into his menu, most notably a beef patty that’s stuffed, a la the beloved Jucy Lucy, with smoked Gouda and slow-braised beef short ribs. It’s so ingrained in the local burger culture that the Minnesota Twins began serving a rendition of it when Target Field opened in 2010.
In 10 weeks, the doors at Vincent will close.
“I think it’s quaint to say, ‘That’s all, folks,’ like the cartoon,” said Francoual. “You close the curtain, and you say, ‘Thanks for the memories.’ ”
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