The news came in a flurry this weekend: Chef Erick Harcey’s Victory 44 closed quietly Friday night. Upton 43 is closing in Linden Hills and moving to the North Loop. We learned that Faces Mears Park (the restaurant formerly called LoTo under chef/owner David Fhima, and, for a time, slated to become Bistro 373) will not reopen after more than 10 years in St. Paul’s Lowertown. Monday, we found out that Haute Dish is over.
I’ve been a big champion of the big picture, noting that openings have outpaced closings, and that many of these closings have had a net-zero impact on the number of dining seats available because they quickly become new openings in the same spot.
I asked Haute Dish owner David Walters if there was a common thread with the closings or if Haute Dish just ran its course after seven years. Haute Dish was a trailblazer and innovator when it opened, and the special vegetarian Monday meals were among my most memorable. However, a lot has changed in seven years, and I think it’s fair to wonder if those changes have made Haute Dish less special.
“I think you are right to an extent. We did run our course. Every restaurant has a life span, and some are longer than others, and seven years is longer than most,” he told me. Haute Dish is like many Twin Cities restaurants: slow in the summer unless there’s a lakeside patio or rooftop lounge. “We could have gotten through into the fall when our business picks up, but…” He lamented new laws requiring insurance, sick leave, paid vacations, and the recent minimum wage increase.
Those issues “made it difficult to see any light at the end of the tunnel. This is a tough and unforgiving business even in the best of circumstances, and it is just going to get tougher. Unfortunately, I feel that many other beloved restaurants will be closing, too,” he said.
I don’t run a restaurant, so it’s not really my place to say how real his concerns about government policies are. However, the reality is that the minimum wage increase won’t fully go into effect until 2024—if it goes into effect at all (the courts are going to weigh in on some local laws regarding sick leave that may impact minimum wage). Still, restaurants generally sign 3- to 5-year lease deals. So, if I ran a full-service restaurant that was treading water, I might be tempted to pull the plug as well.
Strip Club Meat & Fish
In my view, most restaurants that are closing have issues larger than the regulatory environment. Haute Dish lost a lot of its buzz and magic when original Chef/part-owner Landon Schoenefeld essentially left the kitchen to open Nighthawks & Birdie. The Strip Club Meat and Fish in St. Paul, which closed after a decade last month, was a destination restaurant; the only reason you went to that neighborhood was to eat there. Today, we’re in an era where most successful restaurants operate in busy neighborhoods that already have a customer base. The same thing with Upton 43. Linden Hills is not easy to get to, so it makes sense to relocate that concept to what are becoming destination neighborhoods. And Brewer’s Table at Surly Brewing Co., while awesome, was too fancy for the casual Surly Beer Hall crowd. The lack of wine also made some serious fine-dining people stay away.
Bear in mind, openings are at least even with the closings listed below. I haven’t counted them all, but they probably outpace the closings, an issue I wrote about earlier in 2017. David has the right attitude: “I have an amazing wife and family, and everyone is healthy. Restaurants, jobs, money, stress…all of that comes and goes. Family is what you have and is what is truly important.”
CLOSINGS in 2017
Upton 43/Dirty Bird (Upton moving to North Loop)
Brewer’s Table at Surly
Strip Club Meat & Fish
Birdie at Nighthawks
Toast Wine Bar
Café Maude (becoming Kim Bartmann/Asher Miller project)
Ristorante Luci (now Bar Brigade)
Devil’s Advocate (building sold, moved into Dan Kelly’s)
Piccolo (now Tenant)
Tanpopo (Kyatchi moving in)
Bradstreet Crafthouse (building sold)
Jerusalem’s (building demolished)
Loring Pasta Bar (former managers turning it into “Loring Rx”)
Trotter’s (changed owners)
SUBURBAN CLOSINGS in 2017:
Craft Kitchen, Woodbury
Rojo Mexican Grill, Rosedale Center
Parma 8200, Bloomington
Pig & Fiddle, Edina
Mozza Mia, Edina
Rustica Cookies & Ice Cream, Bloomington (Mall of America)