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DeRushaEats: Kevin Kathman OUT at Jack's


That was quick.

Kevin Kathman, the acclaimed chef who rebooted the menu at Jack’s, formerly Java Jack’s in South Minneapolis, is out. He decided this morning along with his kitchen team of four others to pull out of Jack’s.

When I was last in, Kevin told me he was hoping to buy Jack’s from owner Jerry Nelson. According to Kevin, Jerry gave him carte blanche to look over all the financials. Kevin didn’t like what he saw.

Then, “Vendors started calling me last week, staff told me their checks were bouncing,” said Kathman.

While Kevin and I were talking, I got one of the weekly press release emails that come from Jerry Nelson. “Jack's features New Dinner Menu tonight! We've brought back some neighborhood favorites...”

I emailed Jerry, and he hasn’t responded yet, but essentially Kevin said that something stunk in the way the business was being run. He’s accusing Jerry of running personal expenses and car payments through the financials of Jack’s.

Kathman’s menu was extremely ambitious, especially in a place that was essentially a neighborhood coffee shop. I loved the miso shooter he made, and an octopus dish that had cauliflower three ways⎯fried, puréed, and browned. There was a fascinating agnolotti with chestnut purée when I visited too.

Ambitious for a place that was known for sub-par sandwiches and pasta. And Kathman said it was making money, “If we would have paid every single bill, vendor, rent and utilities, we would have showed a profit of $15,000. We were making money in the slowest time of the year,” he told me.

So now Kevin Kathman, who spent time at Kim Bartmann’s empire of restaurants, spent three years working at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, is looking for a gig. He said he’s taking his team to Chicago (for the time being), they’re sticking together. And he’s hoping to find them jobs when he opens another place in Minneapolis, as he said in the comments here, “with more solvent backing.”

Jack’s is back to burgers and sandwiches. (There’s a $12 pizza on the news release I got. “Reservations recommended” as well.) Whatever happened, it’s a shame, because Kathman’s food at Jack’s was winning praise and headed in an exciting direction.

Of course, in the restaurant business there are at least three sides to every story. I’ll let you know when I hear from Nelson.

UPDATE: I just heard from Jerry Nelson...

We did give Kevin the keys with one condition: keep the costs in line.

The labor costs were not in line and not improving. His team was costly and he was unwilling to have anyone take a pay cut or unpaid vacation.

Sales were about the same as our previous concept with three reservations on the books for this week. This was a straight forward business decision.

I wish him and his team the best.

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