The TC's hottest dining mind: genius or lucky?

Sitting in the elegant and energetic Burch Steak in Minneapolis, I thought about the sweet spot of dining. Great space + warm service + stimulating menu + wide appeal = sweet spot. No one hits that better right now than Ryan Burnet.

Seriously. I know you expected me to say Jack Riebel or Isaac Becker or one of the other great chefs in town. It’s one thing to master one or two locations, but it’s another to command the portfolio of this restaurateur/real estate developer (his father is Ralph Burnet, of Coldwell Banker Burnet). Barrio has three locations, with one more coming to the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport. Bar La Grassa is still buzzing more than three years in. And Burch’s steakhouse/pizza bar may be Burnet’s crowning achievement. Not bad for a 33-year-old.

“I’d driven by that space for the last eight years,” Burnet says of Burch’s locale. “Every time I would take a right on Franklin, I’d be bummed. Dilapidated building, underserved, in a great part of town. I knew there was a market for a steakhouse.”

After partnering with Isaac Becker and Nancy St. Pierre to create the Italian-focused Bar La Grassa, Burnet was given the steakhouse idea. “Friends said they loved Isaac’s steak,” he recalls. “After four or five times, it started to sink in.” He found the Burch space and helped line up the investors. But he needed to take on a massive amount of space: 11,000-plus square feet. So to complement the steaks, he came up with the pizza concept for the downstairs room—a brilliant move.

But Burnet knows his strengths—real estate, financial savvy, a knack for opportunity—which may be his greatest strength of all.  He’s actively involved in shaping the direction of a menu, for instance, but doesn’t dictate. “I think Isaac’s got a pretty good pulse on what works. Who am I to tell him what would sell and what wouldn’t?” he says.

In five years, he’s opened seven restaurant locations that are all incredibly successful. So what does he think: is he that good or that lucky? “Probably a healthy combination,” he laughs. Whether his enterprise will evolve into the next Parasole, Kaskaid, or D’Amico is another story. “It’s something that pops into my mind,” he says, “but I want to be careful how I expand.” He’s passed on some opportunities in order to maintain focus. “Some of the deals I’m most proud of are the deals I haven’t done.”

Jason DeRusha is a reporter/anchor at WCCO-TV. Have a dining mystery you want Jason to solve? Email him at DeRushaEats@gmail.com

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