Peter Killen and Vincent Francoual
Turns out this is the shocking twist no one saw coming: Starting in January, Vincent will take over as Culinary Director of Cara Irish Pubs, the company which runs iconic Twin Cities spots such as The Local, The Liffey, Cooper, and Kieran’s. And that’s not all, they have plans to bring the legendary Vincent Burger to the various properties—that’s right we are not losing the Vincent burger! It may return as early as the spring of 2016. And that’s not all, in the more distant future there will be a French-Irish/Irish-French wine bar and pub, with the sort of food one likes to eat in bars. Holy moly! As Tim McKee of La Belle Vie is to Parasole, now Vincent is to the Cara Irish Pubs.
How did this happen? I met with Peter Killen, CEO of Cara Irish Pubs, and Vincent at The Local. Turns out, they’ve been friends for years, after meeting over a pint. Killen, who’s been with The Local for 25 years, had noticed that food has been creeping up as a portion of the Cara pub’s sales, from 40-odd percent a decade ago to more than 50 percent today. “We do $8.5 million a year in food sales—and it’s growing. People are coming in our doors for the food,” says Killen, “And if I’m honest with myself I have to admit we plateaued a bit with our food, and quite a while ago. If we want to be great, we need help. This is us putting our stake in the ground. We are going to have great food.”
But what’s in it for Vincent? “I need a new challenge,” Francoual told me. “I want to spend more time with my daughter and my fiancée, and I want to bring respect back to pub food. I know people are sad about Vincent closing, but I think they shouldn’t be. I will be in the kitchen more than I was at Vincent.” How’s that possible? Because Cara has the infrastructure so that other people will be handling payroll, plumbing, and all the other things a chef-owner deals with. Neither party is entering into this lightly, they’ve been hammering out a deal for fourteen months, and it was all in place before Vincent announced the closing of his eponymous restaurant—and was a big factor in why he decided to close that door and open a new one.
“My wife agreed to marry me way quicker than he agreed to come work for me,” laughed Killen. I asked about the fact that The Local opened with a top-rate fine dining team—Steven Brown (of Tilia) and Khan Tranh (the pastry chef, now of Parella)—but then moved on. “It’s a different food environment than we had back them,” Killen told me. “We’ll never be a fine dining restaurant, no one wants that, but we can always be improving, and that’s what we’re committing to.”
Killen says he expects all current lead chefs and cooks at the various properties to keep their jobs. Part of what Francoual will be doing is working with them to develop specials so that they are more energized about what they’re cooking week to week. “It’s not like I’m going to come in and” Francoual mimes ripping a menu in half. “I think everything they’re doing is pretty good, but in restaurants you can always be upping the game. I care about emotional attachment in food more than anything, I’d rather have a crème brulee which a lot of attention has been paid to than all those foams and powders.”
Francoual will be devoting the entirety of his energies to his restaurant through the close, and then will take a week or two off before joining Cara in January; expect to see his first specials and changes to roll out at Cooper around March.
Congrats to all! And congrats Minnesota, what a relief that Francoual isn’t heading back to France.