According to a note in my inbox, Fugaise, which is three-and-a-half years old, will cease doing business on Saturday, March 14. It is three-and-a-half years old. According to the letter, “. . . although customer and critic feedback has always been fantastic, the restaurant has recently found it hard to survive financially. Chef/owner Don Saunders had this to say, 'For various reasons, it is simply too difficult to justify continuing to operate given the financial picture at Fugaise. From a financial standpoint, Fugaise was not a success. However, from a personal perspective, when I consider the working relationships and friendships built, the opportunity to be creative and do what I love to do, and the satisfied guests along the way, I view the experience as a success.' Business will continue as usual at Fugaise from now until March 14th. Says Saunders, 'We decided to "announce" this a month prior to the actual closing in order to give guests, both regulars and first-timers, a chance to come experience what we do here at Fugaise.' "
Restaurants are businesses first, artistic endeavors second. Frankly, I think being able to survive for this long with all the bad cards dealt its way is amazing. The bad cards included, but are not limited to:
—Location in a part of town that was supposed to take off faster than it did
—A raft of better-placed competition
—Customer fatigue with highly stylized food
—Perception (perhaps faulty) of Fugaise as a special-occasion place
For me, Fugaise was always the restaurant that I never heard many people talk about, and when I first started doing Wednesday night body counts in these pages, I remember the uproar when I posted low foot traffic at Fugaise and predicted its decline twenty months ago. The hardest thing to do in this business is reverse trends and re-energize customers. Fugaise serves great food; I wish I had a chance to eat there in the last few years, and I wish that it was still going to be open.
Several years ago, I did a Fox 9 story on Fugaise, and Saunders made me a lamb dish that I can still taste. I hope I am in town for more than a handful of days throughout the next month so that I can go visit, and I would strongly urge anyone who loves food to stop by this month and support the restaurant. Don Saunders is a gentleman and a great talent with a ton of passion, and I wish he was cooking in a restaurant where more customers could see that. Sadly, that isn’t/wasn’t Fugaise, and the reason I keep bringing this up is that I am hoping that by talking about it, we can afford more exposure to the ideas that make armchair restaurant games fun for food freaks. To those that think that the honest expression of ideas runs contrary to conventional industry boosterism (the kind where we lie to each other by blindly supporting any restaurant just because it's local), well, that is an extraordinarily naive position. I would posit that more opinions and more ideas thrown out there make for a more dynamic petri dish for restaurants to spawn in.
I think there is nothing wrong with stating unequivocally that the issues Fugaise dealt with (namely too few customers) is more connected to Minnesotans' attitudes about going out to eat. That doesn’t mean someone is to blame. It is just a fact.
The Style Laboratory has created a cool-sounding event at Graves 601 Hotel dubbed the Duel of the Design. With a chef and a florist, the competing designers have two hours to design a tabletop for eight, develop a menu, select beverages, and set the mood with music. Todd Walker is emceeing the event on March 5 at 5 p.m. Check it out here.