Be’wiched Deli, the first-rate sandwich destination, with locations in the North Loop and Plymouth, quietly closed last 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 12-dollar-cocktail place.”
The closing 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 (including Restaurant Alma and the former La Belle Vie and D’Amico Cucina) into elevating the humble, taken-for-granted sandwich.
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/Subway/Potbelly universe.
The pair expanded to Eat Street in 2012, but rather than clone Be’wiched, they opened Icehouse (2528 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-276-6523, icehousempls.com), 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.
“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 résumé. It’s a very well-run company, with a great product, and I can get behind that.”
Capital City closings
Meanwhile, in St. Paul, Fern’s Bar & Grill, a Cathedral Hill staple for more than a quarter-century, closed this week.
Fern’s — which spent most of its nearly 27 years as Fabulous Fern’s, and took an All-American approach to food and drink — struggled in recent years. In 2017, owner Dan Dahlin filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.
And Ward 6 (858 Payne Av., St. Paul, 651-348-8181, ward6stpaul.com), the pioneering Payne Avenue gastropub, is also calling it quits. The restaurant, which set an example as a neighborhood gathering spot, will end its 5 ½-year run on June 3.
“The sad fact is Ward 6 has had a difficult time financially for the past couple of years,” reads the message on the restaurant’s Facebook page. “Life in the restaurant biz is hard, and for a small restaurant that tries to do things the right way (as we see it), the margins (and margin of error) are very, very small. There is only so long a restaurant can go on without making money, and we have come to the end of that road.”
W6 began when co-owners Bob Parker and Eric Foster saw the fixer-upper potential in what had been a late-19th-century saloon. Their convivial place proved to a new generation of culinary entrepreneurs — and diners — that a troubled commercial thoroughfare deserved a second chance. And that affordable, approachable gastropubs were a wave of the future, especially those where the kitchen’s approach to beer-friendly food was prepared with integrity.
Since the restaurant’s debut in December 2012, Payne has witnessed a welcome renaissance, thanks to the addition of Tongue in Cheek, Brunson’s Pub, Cook St. Paul, Caydence Records & Coffee, the just-opened Cookie Cart and others.
That Facebook announcement ended with a poignant and instructive message for Twin Cities diners.
“We’re sorry we couldn’t keep this going forever,” it said. “And please, support your favorite local restaurants — chances are, they’re closer to this kind of situation than you might think.”
New in Stillwater
Downtown Stillwater’s latest is Pearl & the Thief (112 Main St. N., Stillwater, pearlandthief.com). The restaurant and bar is a collaboration between the ownership of the popular LoLo American Kitchen (233 Main St. S., Stillwater, 651-342-2461 and 175 S. 2nd St., Hudson, Wis., 1-715-808-8025) and Handsome Hog (203 E. 6th St., St. Paul, 651-340-7710, handsomehog.com) chef Justin Sutherland and general manager Joseph Pirri.
The kitchen emphasizes Southern cooking (and oysters), and the bar focuses on whiskey and craft cocktails. Lunch and dinner is served Monday through Saturday, brunch is served Sunday.
Read full reviews and other restaurant news at startribune.com/dining.