He is one of the brightest culinary stars in the Twin Cities, but Landon Schoenefeld tells me he’s in a funk. Personally and professionally. And he needs to step away from Nighthawks and Birdie, his successful upscale diner in the Kingfield neighborhood of Minneapolis.
Judging from the comments on his instagram post announcing his last day would be December 31st, many of you are shocked by the news. Landon told me: “I’m just not well, very depressed. Sometime the weight of your dreams can crush you. I need to make a change and try somewhere else. I don’t exactly know where yet.”
This comes after a dispute led to Landon’s departure from his other Twin Cities restaurant, Haute Dish. “I still retain my ownership but haven’t been involved in daily operations since March, unfortunately I can’t say more than that,” he said. I reached out to but haven’t yet heard from David Walters, the co-owner of Haute Dish.
Nighthawks and Birdie is an interesting concept: very approachable and delicious diner on one side, exclusive/inventive fine-dining coursed meal on the other. Landon cooked with an outstanding team at Birdie on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights. Only 14 people can buy tickets for dinner. Word on the street was that Birdie was either losing money or not making money, and that Landon’s partners wanted to make a change.
“That’s not necessarily true,” Landon told me. “They see the value in Birdie, and I think the show will go on even after I leave. Those girls that I’ve had the pleasure of cooking beside these last 14 months are wicked talented, and it would be shame if they lost their jobs,” he said. (You can still buy tickets for dinner at Birdie over the next several weeks here.)
“Whatever comes next is in my partners’ hands, but I wouldn’t expect a real shakeup on either side of the kitchen—it’s a successful formula and a popular restaurant. I couldn’t be prouder of both,” he said. Landon is a great chef, and I’ve enjoyed his work starting at the Bulldog NE way back in the day. I hope he gets well—I know he’ll have more success.
Update 1p.m. I just talked with Alex Gese, one of the owners of Nighthawks and Birdie. He wanted to emphasize how supportive the ownership is of Landon’s decision to leave. “He did a wonderful job grooming the wonderful chefs both for Nighthawks and Birdie” said Gese, calling Landon a “good friend” who will continue to be an owner. Gese said the chef was working extremely hard and that the results speak for themselves: Nighthawks is Landon’s vision and it’s doing very well.
As for any changes to the restaurant, Gese was uncertain about how a change in chef would impact the restaurant-within-the-restaurant Birdie. “We’ll look at ways for Birdie to continue. In the same format? We don’t know,” he said. “Is the perceived value in Birdie tied to Landon? We’ll have to see how that shakes out,” he said.
He noted that chef Erik Anderson was working with Landon and Birdie over that last couple weeks. His Brut project has been on hold since the lease on a potential location in the North Loop fell through. Could Erik take over Birdie? “We’re looking at all sorts of options,” Gese said, noting the strong kitchen team already in house.