After 22 years, and untold droves of ecstatic diners, D'Amico Cucina served its last meal on Saturday evening. This morning, less than 48 hours later, it was announced that the Fratelli D’Amico are taking over the food service at the Chambers Hotel. Jean-George Vongerichten is out, and D’Amico and Partners takes over later this summer. Plans and a name for the new eatery will be forthcoming around July 20th, according to Richard D’Amico.
This is great news for fans of the Cucina crew who—despite turning out a stellar, world-class product in every sense of the word throuhgout the last few years—have found numbers dropping and prospects for a revival dimming. The culprits: the new stadium, increased competition, the dimming of the fine-dining fire, the economy, etc. The new eatery will be Italian, Occhiato will stay on as chef, etc., etc.
Soooooo . . . why is JGV and his crew leaving Dodge? Well, let's remember a couple of facts: JGV is a restaurant company, hired by a local businessman (Ralph Burnet) to run the food-service side of his hotel operation. For example, Manny’s performs the same function at the W, the Graves has its own people and manages its own food service. Museums also farm out food service operations, which is how Puck and his people came to be at the Walker. As leases such as these reach renewal status, or as other thresholds of the deal allow, the relationship is re-evaluated and either moves forward, dissolves, or the terms change.
Here’s my guess: Term expires for Chambers Kitchen, or a deliverable was missed by JGV, or a number was not what it should be. One of those scenarios happened, and the Chambers Hotel smartly made a move rather than allowing Chambers Kitchen to die on the vine any further than it already had. The food had gone downhill and become uneven, the crowd and the scene at the bar was not what ownership had envisioned. JGV himself was not a presence here in the least, and my people tell me that the numbers (gross revenue, net profits, etc.) were all falling. What’s more, and this is important, the net profit at the end of the day needs to be divided between the restaurant and the hotel, so success from a dollar standpoint is more important than a single owner-operated eatery would need it to be. There are more mouths to feed, so to speak, and expectations are high. I would venture to say that D’Amico and Partners will find it easier to manage those numbers than JGV’s peeps did all the way from NYC. I also think that the success of the Manny’s move to the W from the Hyatt gave Ralph a good indication that in some cases, “going local” is the way to go. The difference, however, is that the D'Amicos are not opening a Cucina in the Chambers.
All that being said, as a diner, I am happy to see The Fratelli still keeping a downtown Italian presence in Minneapolis. As an industry voyeur, I am dying to find out the dirt on why JGV turned tail so quickly. Did they not want to fight for their turf? Did Burnet aggressively push them out in a way that is not being talked about? Interesting. But the big question is this: Thousands mourned the passing of Cucina . . . does anyone care that Chambers Kitchen is going? Not that we aren’t sad any eatery closes or that people might lose jobs or that a meal there a year ago wasn’t great . . . but do we CARE at all that it closes? Not me. I had higher hopes for a JGV restaurant here in MSP.