The Guthrie Theater's food and beverage program is opening the curtain on a new era. It is accepting proposals for the management of its concessions, catering, Level 5 Cafe and the storied first-floor restaurant space that anchors its downtown Minneapolis complex.
Sea Change, the seafood-focused restaurant that has been in that spot since 2009, has been shuttered throughout the pandemic, and its return is in question.
Sea Change is operated by Dallas-based Culinaire, a national hospitality management company that also oversees Fika and in-house catering at the American Swedish Institute. Until recently, Culinaire also managed the food and beverage program at the Walker Art Center.
Culinaire's contract with the theater is winding down, a Guthrie spokesperson said, and the theater is taking that opportunity to rethink what kind of restaurant makes sense in a changed neighborhood.
"Our contract with Culinaire is nearing its end and we are exploring our options, both in response to changes in our immediate vicinity over the past 15 years and changes to the overall culinary landscape," said Elizabeth Deacon, the Guthrie's associate director of marketing.
To aid in the search, the Guthrie has brought on two Bachelor Farmer alumni: Jonathan Gans, who was executive chef, and Josh Hoyt, the former director of operations.
After the Bachelor Farmer closed in spring of 2020, the pair went on to form a hospitality consulting business, Northlands Consulting. Their first project was the development of Churchill Street, a soon-to-open restaurant in Shoreview. Other projects have included redesigning the patio at Carbone's Pizza on Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis, and working to localize an app they hope will help Minnesota Central Kitchen reach more people.
Gans and Hoyt helped craft a request for proposals for a new hospitality management partner after meeting with Guthrie board members and employees to get a sense of what they envision for the space.
"This is really food and beverage 2.0 for the Guthrie, and an amazing opportunity for them to transform it into something that reflects the neighborhood more, and reflects the Guthrie more," Gans said. "When that went in 12 years ago, it was a very different neighborhood than it is now."
The goal with the new restaurant, he said, is something "more approachable, more community-driven, more accessible" to appeal to the growing number of downtown residents within walking distance. "We want this to be a neighborhood-centric place, to be a draw for people going to the theater but also for people who aren't going to the theater, so that anybody could walk into the Guthrie and feel welcome."
Proposals will be accepted until early November, and then a lengthy review process will begin, Gans said.
Culinaire plans to be among the applicants.
"The changes in our portfolio in Minneapolis do not indicate an intentional withdrawal from the Twin Cities," said David S. Wood, Culinaire's senior vice president for sales and marketing. "We left the Walker due to pandemic reasons that made operating there non-sustainable. At the Guthrie, our contracted term expired and, as often happens in business, the board of directors voted to issue an RFP to see what else was out there. We are looking forward to receiving it and submitting a bid to stay there."
The Guthrie's downtown dining history began when its new complex overlooking the Mississippi River opened in 2006, with Heartland chef Lenny Russo leading the farm-to-table restaurant Cue. La Belle Vie's Tim McKee took over when it became Sea Change three years later and has remained involved. Over time, the restaurant became a workshop for top Twin Cities culinary talent, including chefs Jamie Malone (later of Grand Cafe), Erik Anderson (now a Michelin-starred San Francisco chef), Ryan Cook and Donald Gonzalez.
As for Gans, he's enjoying the view from outside the kitchen.
"To go from opening a restaurant to this thing with the Guthrie, they're totally different beasts to problem solve," he said.
"I don't think this was anything Josh and I thought we were going to do," he added. "I thought I was going to be at the Bachelor Farmer till I was 80 years old."