[/caption] I spoke to Carrie Summer, co-owner, founder of the local food-truck revolution, and she confirmed yes, Chef Shack is leasing the former Jack’s space. A software developer is currently leasing the front of the house space, to use as office space, but that tenant is leaving the tables and chairs, banquettes, coffee machines, beer taps, and so on, intact, with the eye towards it being a full restaurant again one day. For instance, in the fall, when food truck season ends? “We would love that. We would absolutely love it,” Carrie Summer told me. “It’s a possibility, we’ll see.” Happily, the building’s owner, Jerry Nelson, is, Summer told me, “fantastic. He’s really fantastic. He’s very supportive to us, and he really understands us.” Well, that sounds wonderful! Because this year that Jack’s Restaurant space has been like the black bird in the Maltese Falcon—it’s a treasure that’s making the whole town crazy. Let’s recap life since, oh, Christmas:
December 2011: Kevin Kathman, noted chef, formerly of the French Laundry, takes over Jack’s, very excited to enter into a partnership with Nelson, who “really gets what I’m trying to do.” February 2012: Nine weeks later—count ‘em, nine—Nelson fires Kathman in a he-says, he-says hail of accusations in which the owner charges the chef with not being able to make a profit, and the chef charges the owner with taking all the profits to pay prior bills. March 2012: Nelson hires Brian Crouch, one of the top cooks at La Belle Vie, to run Jack’s. “The whole thing was embarrassing,” Crouch told me later. “I’m not going to publicly trash-talk the guy, but when he hired me he talked up and down about how he was treated wrongly when Kevin decided to leave. I start. The next Tuesday he says; ‘Well, I’m selling the place, you can stick around for another two weeks.’ So much for me is about making the food and doing it because you love it—I couldn’t stay.” After giving up one of the top cooking jobs in the Twin Cities, Crouch is seriously up a creek—no job, no way to collect unemployment, no nothing. April 2012: Meanwhile, who was Nelson selling Jack’s to? A prominent young local chef, and his front of the house manager, and their team of investors, thought it was them. Let’s call them Beethoven and Linus. I talked to Linus several times in April, he believed it was all done but the paperwork. ‘Write it, you’ll be the first to know when we sign, then you can publish it.’ I called the restaurant to see if this was true, but the people answering the phone at the restaurant said in fact the new owner was . . . a current manager working with Jerry Nelson. Uh oh. April 2012: Crouch reports that his last check from Nelson bounces. “He freaked out at me, and said he was going to say I never worked for him. So I went down there with my girlfriend, and had to shake him down for cash. My mortgage was on the line. My girlfriend’s intimidating when she’s mad, I’ll tell you. She’s a roller girl.” April 2012: [caption id="attachment_299" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Lola's Lakehouse"]
[/caption] Brian Crouch, mortgage paid, is no longer up a creek! He has won the top job at Lola’s Lakehouse, the mammoth Waconia restaurant owned by Dermot Cowley, of O’Donovan’s, Jake O’Connors, and JJ Murphy’s. Every Minneapolis line cook rejoices. (And if you’re looking for a job, Crouch is hiring. See Craigslist.) “This place serves 1,000 people on a busy day,” Crouch told me. “So the food needs to be simple—we’re not going to be doing a lot of a la minute pan sauces the way we do at La Belle Vie. But you can make good food in other ways, and they have good ingredients. There are some things I can’t change, like the fish and chips, but I think I can do some vibrant specials, and there are benefits to the volume we do, I get a crazy good price on lobster. And there are two Vita-Prep [super-fancy-blenders] here that no one has ever used. I think it may take a little time, but you’ll be surprised what we can do.” If Brian Crouch has a good price on lobster and killer water views, I’m in. (Lola’s Lakehouse) But back to the drama. May 2012 Kevin Kathman gives up on Minneapolis. He took his Minneapolis sous chef and decamps to Los Angeles, where he is offered the top spot at the new West Hollywood/Beverly Hills restaurant Duplex. (No relation to the Minneapolis Duplex.) He is five blocks from the West Hollywood farmer’s market, and has a personal farmer’s market shopper, who also shops for Bouchon and French Laundry, hand-selecting herbs she thinks he might like. “60 percent of the menu looks like Jack’s,” Kathman tells me. “With five entrees, and a lower price point. I’m so happy. I’m stoked. I’m so happy to be in Los Angeles.” May 2012: Jack’s does not sell. It does shut its doors. Carrie Summer and the Chef Shack crew move in to the kitchen….