Here’s the story you hate to print, but after waiting on it for months, the anecdotal research that keeps piling up is just too overwhelming not to mention. Fugaise is on life support.
Not only is this a sad sign for local diners, it is especially sad because Don Saunders is a talented young man who oozes sincerity with his big smile. You want to see him win.
When the rash of closings began several months ago (Levain, Five, et al.), Fugaise was on my internal Deathwatch list and seemed a prime candidate for a February demise based on the tales I was hearing of empty dining rooms, light reservation books, shrinking staff . . . . I was not sure they could last that month, routinely one of the slowest in the biz. I have been in there only to shoot a news story in the last six months, but even back in the fall, Don conceded to me that things were tough. Recent press on him had me hopeful, but that often does not translate into sales. The new Cobalt development has been no panacea for the ailing businesses in the neighborhood, and the last three friends of mine to dine at Fugaise have all sat in empty dining rooms. Over the last few weeks, I have heard that the restaurant was offering incentives to individuals steering business their way, not unusual for large restaurants (who work local concierges feverishly for business), but a telling sign. Put it all together, and it smelled like an imminent closing.
So what do I do, say nothing or do something? If you like this restaurant, go there. Soon. And tell your friends, perhaps it will make a difference.
A few months ago, Asher Miller, a sous chef at 20.21, wrote a letter to the editor of a local weekly, responding to an article their dining columnist wrote about the local eating scene. He said:
While I agree that supporting those chefs whose food is groundbreaking, exciting, and noble—who stick to local, unsubsidized ingredients—is important so is being profitable. No article, no matter how much praise is pressed upon the restaurant, could keep it from closing if that is where the financials are headed . . . . Will we continue to recycle chefs in Minneapolis until they or their apprentices eventually figure out a model that works and makes a profit?
Hopefully the next generation of chefs will be more successful, having seen the restaurants they work in close and watched the management style that made it happen.
And part of doing that is location and design. We will never know, until perhaps Fugaise closes (which I hope it does not) and Don opens a new eatery, but I would bet you a fortune that if this eatery had taken a space in a different neighborhood and had some windows, it would be doing well. The food is good, and that’s what counts, but you have to be where your customers are and have an environment that keeps them coming back.
Good luck to all the James Beard Award nominees this coming Monday. I wish I could be there to congratulate all the winners in person, but there will be plenty of local JBA winners this year, trust me.
This coming Sunday, Broders' chef Michael Rostance and his culinary staff are hosting a wine dinner for Broders' twenty-fifth anniversary celebration. The eight-courser benefiting Slow Food MN is presented together with fine Italian wines from The Wine Company. Reservations are limited. Call Broders' Pasta Bar at 612-612-925-9202, send an email, or get more information on Broders' website. The menu is:
Shaved Grana Padano with Grass Fed Beef Tenderloin “Caviar”
Water Cress, Lemon, and Olive Oil
Chilled Creamy Sweet Pea, Spinach, and Zucchini
with Goat Cheese Mascarpone
Involtini of Star Prairie Trout Filets with Basil, Pine Nuts,
And Caramelized Onion and Saffron Broth
Farro with Scallops and Seafood Ragu
Arugula with Roasted Porcini (or Morel) Mushrooms Fresh Fava Beans
and Saffron Pecorino
Hill and Vale Spring Lamb Leg Stuffed with Pork and Pistachio Sausage
Served with Grilled Baby Artichokes or Sautéed Dandelion Greens
Slow Food (according to the literature) is an international organization founded in Italy in 1986 in reaction to the first McDonald's opening in Rome. Its goals are to defend the biodiversity of our food, promote local sustainability, offer taste education, and link producers of excellent food to consumers. Slow Food has 80,000 members worldwide. Sounds like you might want to join the local convivium.