Photo by Caitlin Abrams
What a mess.
The rumors have been swirling for weeks now; Il Foro, the landmark Minneapolis Art Deco palace transformed last year into an Italian fine dining destination, was about to close. I tried and tried to get anyone to go on the record to talk about it, but failed. Then, on Sunday, chef Joe Rolle, wooed from Borough, from where he had brought a great squad of cooks and other staff, got a text message from his wife: It was a screen-shot of Il Foro’s website, with the announcement it was closed. Ouch.
What happened? Off the record, I am living in a universe which is basically like the Mexican standoff scene in Reservoir Dogs. In this circle of pointed guns, everyone’s aiming basically libelous accusations against everyone, and because everything is so high-octane libelous, I can’t print any of it without getting pulled into this Mexican standoff myself. So that is not what I’m doing today.
On the record: It’s just another ordinary restaurant closing in Minneapolis, with an unfortunate technical error which resulted in the announcement that the restaurant was closing, before it was meant to be announced. “That was not how it was supposed to go,” owner Josh Thoma told me. “There were a number of missteps. We were afraid the restaurant would be pillaged, it [the website change] was supposed to happen at six or seven o’clock, after a number of calls and meetings, but it happened at noon.” Thus leaving investors, landlords, and staff to discover the loss through texts and calls between themselves. Other than that, says Thoma, the Il Foro closure is nothing out of the ordinary. “It’s never fun, and my main concern is for my employees, and to make sure everyone gets paid. The concept didn’t work; which is on us. Il Foro just wasn’t the right concept—people vote with their dollars where they’re going to eat, and we missed it. The location is a little challenging, and we had constant construction outside, which didn’t help. But the space is beautiful, our staff was great, and the food was fantastic. It was one of my favorite places to eat in Minneapolis, and I don’t know why people didn’t feel the same.”
Thoma also said that The Lexington, the St. Paul landmark that Thoma is bringing back with Jack Riebel, will be entirely unaffected by Il Foro’s closing. Also unaffected will be Smack Shack, and the new Chicago Smack Shack. “They’re all totally separate entities, it won’t effect any of them,” Thoma told me, adding that the finances of the different properties are in no way entangled, which is what drew scrutiny to the 2010 imbroglio which drew in so many local restauranteurs.
“It’s not like there were funds that were moved around,” Thoma told me. “And now I’m smart enough not to sign a lot of personal guarantees, so it’s not like I have to start my career over with a food truck and live the movie Chef,” which is what he basically did from 2010 till now, turning his lobster roll truck into a successful restaurant in two cities. “This one is stressful and it sucks, but it is what it is,” sighed Thoma.
That’s all I know, folks. It was a beautiful restaurant. It made the cheeseburger of the year. The rumor-mill has it that Joe Rolle is signed on to be the chef at Ann Kim’s upcoming spot Young Joni, but no one will confirm that either. I’d like to extend my condolences to everyone who lost their job, or lost their money, I’m sorry and I appreciate the effort you made to bring something beautiful to the city. Thank you for all that. All I can say is that sometimes things that were started in hope and beauty turn into a great and painful mess, and I hope you all come out okay in the end, somehow.