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MSP - Auriga Closing

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http://www.startribune.com/438/story/...

Things really do come in threes. Ten years is a good run and all but I can't help but think if they focused as much on the front of house as they did on the product coming out of the kitchen, Flicker & Co. would have maintained their clientele. At least that's been my experience there.

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  1. 10 years is a helluva run. This is a business of the heart. Basic economics have to be there, but the financial rewards seldom begin to meet the physical/mental/emotional requirement. Auriga was relatively recently joined by the forces of La Belle Vie, 20.21, and Lurcat. Could have been the start of a dining district, but might have led to a few too many seats (on the high end) for the neighborhood.

    All this angst about the TC's greater food culture is a puzzle. This market is coming to maturity in an interesting age. The food media, cult of celebrity etc. has created a set of values and expectations which are new and sometimes unrealisitc. Essentially you (the dining public) have to put your money where your mouth is. What options do you want to have? National chains, high end concepts managed by groups from afar, the local restaurant groups, or a smattering of local chef driven concepts? Ownership and leadership are factors which need to be more widely understood. It's not so much a matter of strengthening the local economy as it is a matter of supporting the local culinary brain trust. What's distinctive about a city are it's one of a kind, chef driven establishments. We've just lost one which I felt had a place. There are other losses which represent hubris or lousy management, not Auriga.

    1. Sometimes I wonder if restaurants such as Auriga are actually intimidating to many Minnesotans. I've heard quite a few people say that they are and I'm somewhat like that myself. It takes a wee bit of adventureness (is that a word)? But when I become anxious about visiting a new restaurant that I see as maybe being too fancy for me (just my observation), I just go to one of the *many* I've been to and are comfortable with.

      1. I was just going to post this.

        How disappointing. However, I was pretty surprised they lasted 10 years with that low a number of tables and high quality product.

        1. What a bummer. Do you think the population of the Twin Cities is just too small to support this many restaurants in the fine dining price point and the new Chambers and Cue's and 20.21's just push the older ones out because there's just not enough of that business to go around?

          Restaurants like SF and NYC and Chicago has such a big tourist base that, I assume, helps support these restaurants. Is that part of the issue?

          EDIT--by the way, appetizers and amuses at Auriga was on Dara's top ten list last year. What a disappointment to lose it.

          ~TDQ

          1. This city lacks fine diners and fine dining servers & management. Any monkey with $$$ can hire a great chef and get a concept up and running, but day in day out, there has to be a commitment to the ideals from the entire staff and from a large number of dining constituents.

            5 Replies
            1. re: g rote

              But why don't we have fine diners? Are we just too small, population-wise? Is it the relative lack of tourism? Is it the urban-sprawlness and the dual-downtownness of us? Or is it a cultural thing?

              ~TDQ

              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                --Culture of Modesty
                --Lack of tourist dollars (the "tourists" we do have are concentrated around a 5 block area of downtown on weeknights, and tend not to stray beyond a few places that are very well located)
                --Lack of local disposable income(seems to me everyone in MN has a mortgage and crushing daycare bills)

                --Sprawl is not a factor...there are more spread out cities that still manage (LA)to have great restaurants.

                1. re: g rote

                  I'll buy those as reasons. When I was doing some (very casual) research on various US cities a couple of years ago, the Twin Cities had one of the highest (if not highest) rates of home ownership and of married people in the country. San Francisco, for instance, is just the opposite, as well as being one of the most travelled to destinations in the world. That must bring in enough extra dollars, plus reinforce a dining out culture.

                  Well, it's too bad to lose some of the great restaurants. I suppose we should work hard to enjoy them while they're here.

                  ~TDQ

                2. re: The Dairy Queen

                  g_rote's points are all very good. I'd like to add that "fine diners" are not born, they are made and the fine dining factory around here hasn't been open that long.

                  I just hope these talents stay in the TCs while we work that part out.

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    in today's STRIB analysis of the closings, someone referred to there being a lot of Lutheran DNA here. that may be good for Garrison Keillor. Bad for quality restaurants.

                3. This is so disappointing. Best of luck to Doug. I just don't know what to say.

                  I now have this overwhelming fear of having to say goodbye to Alma or Fugaise or jP Bistro in the coming weeks/months.

                  Is the Applebees in Block E still open? It is? That's what I thought. Disappointing.

                  1. I sometimes wonder if there aren't too many resteraunts. We can talk about MN's not eating out enough--which is sort of an odd premise--or not being adventerous enough or not willing to pay enough. But, in any city, there are only so many people and dollars to go around.

                    Maybe because we are in a smaller market these closings seem more jolting. In NYC places like this close constantly.

                    Either way, this is sad news. Auriga was a nice place.

                    Hans

                    1. It's pathetic to read the post about the disappointed "refugee" from Chicago who lives in Savage and can't find good food in the TC, and then read all the rationale behind the restaurant losses in the last weeks. Pathetic and disheartening. Why? Well, a lot of respondents identified themselves as transplants from chow-towns that were very pleased with what they found here, so I ask - are they truly supporting the culinary arts? As I see it, you have to “contribute” if you want the options to be there for you – want to have the opportunity to see a play one day? Donate to the theater or plan (and go) twice a year to a play. Same with live rock music, the orchestra, independent films, visual arts, and restaurants. You have to just go – give it a try, give them your money. You are better off spending your discretionary income investing in the food and culture of the place you live than buying a bigger car and a flat-screen TV (trust me, those won’t improve your quality of life). Sorry for the preaching, but I keep telling people to go try new restaurants once a month, if they want new restaurants to keep showing up. If you don’t invest in your community, there won’t be one when you need it.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: MariQ

                        I'm confused--are you saying the closure of high-end restaurants is the fault of transplants from other cities? Because you're assuming they are buying new cars and big televisions instead of going to nice restaurants?

                        I'm going to have to disagree with you on that point. I don't think newcomers have, in disproportionately higher frequencies, failed to support the local restaurant scene, or, at least I don't see any tangible, non-anecdotal evidence to support that point. The post from the guy who recently moved to Savage was disheartening, yes, but what confuses me is that your disdain (if I'm interpreting your post correctly and believe me, maybe I'm not--it is 2am and this whole new Chowhound rollout is a big wonky and distracting) seems to be directed not at him but at those who responded to him. Those replies seem to me to be by people--newcomers or otherwise-- who have been out exploring their communities (the thread was specifically about modestly-priced ethnic restaurants, not fine dining options), so, I'm not sure why you are wondering if they are the ones who are failing to do their share to support the local restaurant scene?

                        I agree, it's everyone's responsibility to support the community in which they live, regardless of how long they've lived in it. However, one must have some patience with the newfolk: while I don't think they should be cowering at home, longing for the old country, it's fair to assume some are still preoccupied with trying to find their way around town (I personally get lost every time I cross the river, and I still don't understand where El Burrito Mercado is--Western St. Paul, but not West St. Paul, right?--where I'm from, West is unambiguous: it's where the ocean is), learning how to drive on ice, dealing with a new employer, and trying to find a new barber, tailor, dentist, and, of course, the best food in town. I'd even suggest that those who are new to the area are probably more time and financially-constrained than those who have a well-established local support network and aren't paying off moving debt.

                        For the record, I'm driving the same old car I moved here in. I do indeed have a new television: it was a gift.

                        Did I misunderstand your point?

                        ~TDQ

                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          sorry, i was indeed misunderstood. did not mean to imply that it was the fault from transplants nor chowhounds - actually, it seems that transplants are the ones who truly embrace eating out at different places vs. the same join every time.
                          the post from the Savage hound did make me mad, and some similar posts in the past of people who mention "i have not been there for years but i'm so sad it closed"... thus i launched my "support the culinary arts" tirade. The $ issue was misplaced, I’m sorry for that too - i'm peeved at my friends that can't eat out b/c is "so expensive" but they embark in all sort of other materialistic indulgences - a pity for the local community.

                          1. re: MariQ

                            Okay, thank you for the clarification! I was pretty sure I must have misunderstood you. I do agree with your point about needing to support the various arts in one's community if you value them. It's wonderful to have all of these amenities--let's get out and enjoy them!

                            ~TDQ

                      2. I will admit we never made it to Auriga for dinner but I'm a huge fan of their happy hour. The bar is calm and quiet and the wine and pizza deals made for many enjoyable evenings.

                        1. People who live in SF and NY are so spoiled for restaurants, it's not even fair. They are restaurant & culture cities. We are a working family city.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: g rote

                            It's true. In San Francisco, it would not be unusual to eat every single meal out, and I'm guessing NYC is the same. But, we're not storing our spices and cookware in our bathtubs, either: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                            It is interesting, though, to see the different attitudes towards eating out. I wonder if there's a way to find out the number of restaurants per capita and how the Twin Cities ranks. Maybe (as Foureyes was saying, if I can paraphrase a bit) with the Wolfgang Pucks moving in, we have a relative excess of these kinds of restaurants for our population size right now?

                            ~TDQ

                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              Weirdly enough, this sort of a topic comes up often in those never-ending discussions about stadiums and other recreation in the Twin Cities.

                              There is a consensus that the metro area relies on residents for the entertainment spending, and that there are more places to spend our recreation dollars than there is discretionary income. When the price point is too high for the whole family to participate, then there has to be a helluva draw for the venue to stay alive.

                              Case in point: One theatre of the size & caliber of the Guthrie is great. Two would be phenomenal, but one would end up folding.

                              Maybe we've topped out on the capacity for high-end eating options the same way that we've maxxed our ticket-buying capacity for sporting events? The only way to fill the seats at the NFL, NBA, WNBA, NHL, MLB games is for those teams to win. When they're losing the fans opt for a team that's cheaper and winning and/or more fun, like Gophers Hockey and minor league baseball.

                              If they had absorbed this point, maybe the missteps at Levain and Five would not have been so fatal. Let's hope the others learn by watching.

                            2. re: g rote

                              False. We are one of the most cultural cities in the US.

                              1. re: FishMPLS

                                We'd better keep our discussion focused on food, or we'll veer off-topic. But, that would be an interesting discussion, FishMpls, for you (or someone) to post on the "Not about food" board--how do food and culture intertwine? Does one lead to the presence of the other?

                                ~TDQ

                            3. SF & NY are major tourist destinations & mpls is not.

                              Their populations are also significantly higher.

                              Cost of living is a tad higher as well.

                              We've got to work with what we've got.

                              1. Restaurants open. Restaurants close. It's the exceptional place that can stay in business, with consistently high quality, year after year, decade after decade.

                                I'm not seeing any great cause for alarm here. Something else will open, somewhere. There will be good places to eat.

                                1. My understanding on the closing of Auriga is that it has less to do with the lack of a clientele (although it does come into play ) and more along the lines of Doug Flicker simply realizing "the time is now" He said he would do it for 10 years, and he did. I think it may be much better to understand when it's time to bow out and go gracefully, then to have to come to a sudden stop against a brick wall after months of bad publicity and faltering like Five did. Doug had a great run and I imagine is totally worn out. As others have said, something else will come along.

                                  1. From their email/press release:

                                    "Flicker’s upcoming plan includes an extended culinary working trip on the West coast, and owners Melinda Van Eeckhout and Jim Andrus plan time off to decide future endeavors.

                                    It’s simply time to move on…on a high note,” the Auriga owners agreed."

                                    Sounds like it has nothing to do with how much or little clientele; they're just moving on, that's all.

                                    1. This is truly a fascinating thread! I gotta say...I grew up on Saint Paul and now live in Brooklyn; my boyfriend was living in Minneapolis for 10 years before joining me in Brooklyn last year. While living in MN, the BF's chow adventures were limited to anything on the corners of Lyndale and Lake. Now we do tons of chow adventures throughout the five boroughs and try to do the same every time we visit the TC (which is quite often). And while we are often cruising Eat Street or hitting up the MGM, we simply cannot entice friends and family to join us. Our friends in MN are similar to those in NYC -- educated, cultured folks in their late 20s and early 30s. But those in the Midwest seem pretty oblivious to restaurant culture, and it really never occurs to them to eat out, and if they do, it's kind of limited to Cafe Latte and Pizza Luce. Kill me for saying this, but the culture of food has not historically been a Minnesotan ethos. Prior to living in New York, I lived in the Bay Area for 6 years. As I soon figured out, people in the Bay Area talk about food like people in the Midwest talk about sports.

                                      This isn't to say that the Twin Cities doesn't have some great establishments or good potential; the interest just doesn't seem to have been nurtured. And let's be honest -- the food reporting in the two major newspapers is pretty pitiful and doesn't particularly help the cause.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: chompchomp

                                        "the food reporting in the two major papers is pretty pitiful"

                                        That's why we like dear Dara so much.

                                        1. re: Loren3

                                          well, obviously. I love her too. but I don't think the general MSP population is totally tuned into the City Pages.

                                        2. re: chompchomp

                                          Now, I don't want to get into a comparison between new york (or SF) and the twin cities because you can't (size, population, demographics, income etc...). Now, as far as your specific point about eating out culture, my friends and I eat out every day at least once a day if not all three meals. On a Tuesday night this week I had drinks at AZIA and the dining room was full. I then ate dinner at Barbette and it was full with a waiting list. So it seems like I am in a good company. Auriga will be replaced with 3 restaurants just like it . Some will survive and most won't the same as in New York and the bay.

                                        3. Andrew Zimmern had an interesting take in his blog, namely that the closing of Levain, Five, and Auriga, along with Seth Bixby Daugherty leaving Cosmos - "we have lost four of the best seven chefs in town in the blink of an eye."

                                          1. We stopped into the bar at Auriga tonight for a final pizza and wine evening and it was packed. I got there at 6 and they said that they wouldn't have seating in the bar until 8:30, and they don't have any openings on the restaurant side through Saturday (I'm not sure of their final closing date). I'm happy people are coming out to show their support, just wish we could have gotten something to eat! We were able to have a lovely dinner at Lucia's instead.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: katebauer

                                              we called as soon we heard about the closing and they were booked solid until the last day. today we tried to sit at the lounge and heard the same as kate: 2 to 3 hour wait, maybe more - good for them, sad for us, looking for a last meal =(

                                            2. Definitely sad as I enjoy having choices. But at the end of the day 112, Alma and Lucia's are better than Levain, Five and Auriga. Levain especially was weak. Terrible room, bad service, and the food was not enough to make up for it. There is a lot of competition out there.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: Michael Florey

                                                I disagree. I think Alma and Auriga were the top two in that bunch. Then I would put Levain next. After that I would put 112 Eatery and Lucia's. And lastly I would put Five.

                                                1. re: Josh Resnik

                                                  Different strokes, I guess. I just can't ever imagine myself saying I'd rather spend an evening at Levain than 112. The service sub-par at Levain, the room was terrible, and the food up and down. I did have some superb food there. But I had great food at Charlie Trotter's as well, but didn't really enjoy the experience. (It was like a library of folks deconstructing their dinners. No one was having any fun).

                                                  1. re: Josh Resnik

                                                    So you would put La Belle Vie or Solera or even Fugaisse after Five? LOL

                                                    1. re: youngchef

                                                      Not LBV or Fugaise. Love Solera for its fun atmosphere but the food was better at Five. I liked Five overall and was a little suprised it closed.

                                                      Right now my absolute favorite dining experience in the Twin Cities is going to LBV and haivng diner in the bar/lounge. It is beautiful , relaxed, and you can order off of both the lounge menu and the big menu.

                                                2. I was really upset about Auriga closing. It has been one of my favorite restaurants in the Twin Cities since it opened almost 10 years ago right around when we moved out here. It was fun to see it evolve over the years, and I think it was one of the best restaurants in the Twin Cities.

                                                  I know many have already given their views about why Auriga closed. Without rehashing everything I wanted to give my take.

                                                  1. I think what the owners said about quiting at the right time was a big part of it. Over the years I got to know Mel, who was one of the owners. I did not know her well, but from our conversations I got the sense that the restaurant did well enough, but never made a lot of money. I think it was a little bit one of those decisions of the how much are we getting out of this for the amount we are putting in. If the restaurant had been a lot more successful finanically, my guess is that they would have kept going with it. But they were never the type of people who have put less effort in.

                                                  2. I think the changes in the immediate neighborhood over the past couple years hurt them. The Guthrie moving had to take a big piece of business away from them. For years they were the closest restaurant to the Guthrie, and always seemed to be crowded before shows. That business shifted to Cue and Spoon River when the Guthrie re-located. Also, they had two high end fine dining neighbors move in with the opening of 20.21 and La Belle Vie. With those three restaurants it created the best 1/2 mile radius of fine dining in town, but it also meant a lot of immediate competiton.

                                                  3. I think they swung and missed with the re-model they did about 4 years ago. Many people complained about the old space (which I happened to like) so they did an extensive re-model to make it seem fancier. To me it ended up feeling like a hotel lobby. With the re-model they could have gone for fancier and elegant (like La Belle Vie), fancier and hip (like Chambers or 20.21), or just more comfortable (like Lucia's or 20.21). I think they ended up with fancier, uglier, and not as comfortable. While I still loved the food, I never loved the new space.

                                                  4. This one is tied to number 2. Basically there is just a lot more competition in fine dining in Minneapolis then there was a few years ago. But beyond that people always want to go to the new hot place. Friends and co-workers know I am a foodie so I always get questions about what is the best new restaurant you have been to. Nobody ever asks me, what is your favorite restaurant that is 1/2 mile from your house and continues to re-invent itself and serve great food night in and night out for the last 10 years. I try to steer them to these places, but people want to eat at the new "it" place. The fact of the matter is that Auriga was doing a lot more new stuff when we went there last month than many of the new restaurants in town which are doing the same old, same old. It is the rare restaurant like Lucia's and D'Amico Cucina that really stand the test of time and stick around for so long.

                                                  Yes there are a lot of places out there, and there are still some great fine dining options in the Twin Cities. But losing places like Auriga which was a real chef driven restaurant that used great local ingredients is a real loss for the community.

                                                  1. It is a shame to lose a fine restaurant like Auriga. It really was a stellar place, if you'll forgive the pun. The sevice could be somewhat spotty, but the meals were always a masterpiece. Does anyone know what's going to happen to the building? I don't think it can be replaced, but it would be nice if another restaurant opened there. And hopefully Alma will stick around for a lot more years.

                                                    1. I am disappointed that Auriga closed as well. Despite what you may have thought - the closings of Five and Restaurant Levain - show that the restaurant business can be brutal.
                                                      As the recent City Pages said -it is a host of things -new places like Cue, Chambers, etc. are attached to theaters and hotels - meaning they get to piggyback for building rent, utilities, etc. - making it a better chance of survival. Additionally, it was noted - that while Minnesotans like to "fine dine" - they like to do it quarterly ($200+) rather than monthly, or more every few weeks. Behold -there are still some decent choices- La Belle Vie is still around, Vincent-A Restaurant, Restaurant Alma--- and they've seemed to be holding their own.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: snoboardbabe77

                                                        FWIW, Monday was Lenny Russo's last day at Cue. (At least according to Andrew Zimmern's blog)

                                                      2. this bummed me OUT! I loved this place for happy hour and was hoping to go there for my birthday dinner tonight... argh!