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Jul 30, 2012 04:20 PM

Dubuque in Carroll Gardens

Walked by Dubuque a few days ago and saw that the windows were all papered up, but there was no sign indicating what was going on. Does anyone know if they've shut down permanently, or if they're just renovating or shut temporarily? It would be a shame if they're gone for good. Thanks.

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  1. I'm hearing they aren't coming back...or for sale to a new owner. Definitely had a fine product and presentation.

    14 Replies
    1. re: Mike R.

      Yeh, I was just talking to my wife about that last night. I had read the news on here that Dubuque was closed. I was just walking by an empty SottoCasa on Atlantic around 930. We made our way passed a completely empty Red Rose restaurant. (i don;t know if this place is good) We talked about the closing of Cafe Catania. We passed lots of restaurants that either had no customers or very few.

      Is it that Brooklyn just has too many good restaurant these days? Is there a weekly crowd to support these places. There are some spots, we called Pok Pok, we called Talde, they both had 1.5 hour waits but, lots of places were empty. Lots of places with good food.

      I don't know the answer or even if I am making sense.. All I know is, Dubuque is closed, their burger was my favorite in Brooklyn. It's a shame they closed because, based on quality alone, they should have been a success.

      1. re: Daniel76

        Location, location, location...I know that Mark is a very skilled chef and he took a chance on an almost nowhere spot "down under". To top it off, Dubuque got caught up in the Smith-9th "F" & "G" station closure, lopping off walk-by business for almost a year.

        If ANY of the other Court Street locations you mentioned were available and became Dubuque, it could've been quite a different story.

        1. re: Mike R.

          yes, my wife's answer was location as well. I still managed to go 6 times from Clinton Hill.

          1. re: Mike R.

            At the same time, Dubuque was only a block or two away from Buttermilk Channel, and three blocks away from Prime Meats, both of which haven't suffered from the subway closure. I think word of mouth, or lack thereof, was a factor too.

            1. re: missmodular

              I guess it hasn't occurred to anybody that the vast majority of people have no money these days. If they do manage to get out, they save it for the weekend. A sad fact.

              1. re: Sluggo1407

                Some people clearly still have money because I walked down smith st tuesday eve and lots of places were packed.

                I live in the neighborhood and love burgers and somehow never got to Dubuque. I think its failure was due to a combo of location and lack of hype. Plenty of places in locations like that do well, but they need more hype. Or else they need a location with more foot traffic. Or maybe burgers aren't worthy of a destination restaurant and there weren't enough locals. But they definitely flew under the radar a little bit. I just did a search on here for "Dubuque" and came up with one mention in the past year. Compare that to the mentions for Pok Pok or The Good Fork or Vinegar Hill House.

                1. re: missmasala

                  I agree with missmasala. There just wasn't enough good p.r. to get my attention. I usually listen to Daniel76 but, in this case, never made it there. On the other hand, although I am not exactly loaded with extra cash, my wife and I have managed to eat at River Deli, Henry's End & Chez Moi in the past week and have plans to help keep a bunch of the other good places in business during the next week (i.e.; Lulu and Po, Tschoup Shack/dba.....). Lots of places are pretty busy during the week Sluggo, although your general point is well taken... these are lean times, but I don't think your conclusion holds up here.

                2. re: Sluggo1407

                  Actually I completely agree with you- I think people are hurting and that that's why so many of these restaurants have closed. It's not that nobody in the city has any money- it's that only a few do- so you have to be one of "those" restaurants in order to make it.

                  By "those" I mean you must have either: a perfect location, as in Watty and Meg (I used to walk by that space when it was Cafe Carciofo and think "my God, you'd have to WORK to fail there"- and I was right), the perfect KID-FRIENDLY formula (MooBurger, Layla Jones), a sustainable "buzz"/"cool factor" (Buttermilk Channel- which is loud as hell and whose dishes are hit and miss but who has a certain undeniable style, a FEEL, a cool name, a cool font/menu/design/space etc.-- which manages to keep it going, or Frankie's- which is really not a pleasant dining experience unless you are in the back yet just keeps on packin' 'em in, or Lucali's-- same thing- good product, "cool"-factor, etc.- despite the annoying wait), or you have to be charmed. It is VERY hard to make it in this economy unless you fill some perfect niche.

                  I tried Dubuque and liked it but I had a feeling it would fail-- they needed to "kid" it up, name it something like, I dunno- "the Brooklyn Burger Co." or something utterly ridiculous-- something which screams "bring the kiddies!"-- basically, they would have needed to transform it into some kind of upscale Chuck E. Cheese- which is unfortunately what works here. Mooburger personifies this formula: an "upscale" kiddie place where Cobble Hill moms unleash their *ahem* children while they pick at their veggieburgers and dip their fries in ketchup.

                  The sad thing is that there IS a market for chill burger places in our neighborhood- but Dubuque didn't seem to know if it was for kids or adults- and with these rents, you gotta decide-- and then go ALL IN. You can't be all things to all people (unless you're a straight diner).

                  I think it's sad, because I think more places like that are needed- i.e., relaxed, inexpensive, good-quality places where adults AND kids can congregate, but it's not ALL about kids- but unfortunately I don't see places like those getting a lot of action.

                  Oh and btw- those "crowded" places on Smith Street "packed" with people with money will mostly be defunct within a year.

                  Sluggo's right- people are TRULY hurting- a fact to which even our moneyed enclave isn't immune. And don't even get me started on the rents...

                  1. re: twan55

                    I never went to Dubuque. While I agree that it takes a combination of things to make a successful restaurant, I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on your perception of a economy that is keeping people from dining out.

                    My recollection is that most new restaurants go out of business within two years. Its often due to lack of a clear business plan and insufficient capital. Lots of people want to open restaurants but don’t really appreciate what it will take to make it a successful business.

                    My mother opened a restaurant while I was in junior high school and ran it through my college years. It was a tremendous effort to keep the place going even after getting glowing reviews in the local papers and magazines. After 8 years of exhaustion, she sold it.

                    Many years ago, a friend who was a chef and his wife wanted to open their own place. They pitched the concept to me as a potential investor. I passed on it telling them while I loved their cooking and thought the world of them as people, I was wary of the restaurant trade in NYC as it was notoriously difficult business. They had also picked a spot that had seen at least 4 places come and go over a similar number of years. One of those “cursed” spots. But they had an honest to god real plan. I recall going over spreadsheet models of costs and revenue projections. They knew what they needed for the business to be successful. Even though I passed, they raised the money and the group of friends pitched in with sweat equity to help them open. First review in the NYT was 2 stars. They launched at a time when the business cycle in NYC was on the downside but they managed through it and they’re still in business . If I mentioned the name of the place, I will bet you have heard of it and may have even been there. A success story for sure, but the point is they had a carefully thought out and realistic plan. They identified their market and what it would take to draw in the customers.

                    My opinion is that Dubuque just didn’t do enough preparing for the business. I saw that at Catania. Great location and awesome food. But it was clear from my first visit that they didn’t know how to run a restaurant. Everything was run in a haphazard fashion. The place didn’t know what it wanted to be. Was it a café, takeout, deli, pizza or dine in place? It tried to be too many things and never worked. The wife and I wanted to go as many times as possible to support it because of the quality of the food, but not enough other people were willing to put up with it.

                    I contrast that to Colonie which was opened by a group of seasoned restaurant professionals who had a clear vision of what they wanted. Its been packed from the beginning. If you do it right, you can draw in customers no matter what the market is like. No kiddie theme there either. Plenty of people dine out even today but there are all lot of choices and you need to give them a reason to come.

                    1. re: Bkeats

                      It is safe to say that there is a link between the high failiure rate of new restaurants and the fact that even successful restaurateurs don't readily recommend the business to would-be entrants.

                      1. re: Bkeats

                        "...I saw that at Catania. Great location and awesome food. But it was clear from my first visit that they didn’t know how to run a restaurant. Everything was run in a haphazard fashion. The place didn’t know what it wanted to be. Was it a café, takeout, deli, pizza or dine in place? It tried to be too many things and never worked. The wife and I wanted to go as many times as possible to support it because of the quality of the food, but not enough other people were willing to put up with it."

                        Nice post & I agree with just about all you've said. But, just vis a vis Catania, one of the reasons the identity of the place never became clear is that there were too many folks with $$$ in the pot and each thought they knew what it should be. The couple "running" the restaurant may not have had enough ownership experience to avoid the pitfalls and run a tighter ship, but the others involved sure should have been able to. I heard he just packed up the family and went back to Italy. I'm not sure what the other partners are doing with the space (if they still have a lease on it, as I think they do). It's very unfortunate to lose a place that actually had very good food at a good price in a fine location.

                        1. re: Bkeats

                          I'm sorry to say that I also did not make it to Dubuque. I agree with most of what you said, except that the owner/chef at Dubuque was no rookie. He was the chef (and owner?) at Red Table on 5th avenue, which was a much higher-end endeavor than a burger restaurant.

                          Maybe he needed to do more PR/advertising. Maybe he needed to retool the concept. Maybe "burger restaurant" simply isn't compelling enough to draw crowds. I don't know. I don't think it's just the current economy. Van Horn seems to be doing okay. Prime Meats is still packed to the rafters. Buttermilk Channel doesn't appear to be suffering. Rucola has a lengthy wait every night.

                          So Bkeats, I think everything you said is true, except I'm not sure it applies in this case. Mark has been in the business for a long while. My sense is that Mark wants to do what he wants to do. And this time what he wanted to do wasn't what people wanted to pay for.

                          1. re: egit

                            Mooburger can't STOP making money.

                            Burger-only places are perfect in NYC- but you need the kiddies.

                            Not with all restaurants- with BURGER restaurants.

                            Practically every successful Burger joint around here courts moms and their kids.