If Dying Reefs are a Sign of a Sick Ocean, Dying Restaurants are a Sign of…

Calhoun SquareThis story is about restaurants in Minneapolis, but I’m sure it applies to other cities as well.  Here in our Uptown neighborhood yet another attempt at upscale dining quickly crashed, closing less than a year — far less than a year — from its opening.  Parella closed today, citing lackluster sales.

Parella isn’t the first in the neighborhood.  In fact, it isn’t even the first in that location.  Two previous attempts to replace Figlio, the long-standing king of the block, have failed.  You would expect otherwise.  Parella is — or rather was — located in one of the busier parts of town, bordering some of the most affluent neighborhoods in the city and surrounded by growth.  It is easy to imagine upscale diners weary of destination dining to take advantage of something a bit more upscale down the block.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case and I think it has more to do with the business environment in Uptown than it does the wants of those who live in the neighborhood or even those who do not live in the area.  Trust me, you will rarely hear upscale suburban diners suggest checking out Uptown.

The reason is fairly clear to me.  Uptown has been re-engineered.  It is no longer a somewhat eclectic and quirky district in Minneapolis.  It has lost the charm that might give life to and sustain chef-driven dining.  Instead it has been re-engineered so that it caters to suburban kids on a binge.

Bar Table at Parella

I blame this poorly conceived bar table. Photo credit: CBS.

Consider this.  When Uptown was still Uptown on one end of the block Lucia’s, one of the city’s most successful chef-driven restaurants, open and down the street on the other end was Figlio, something that passed for posh glam dining in its day.  (And truthfully, endured quite well despite the wear of the years.)  In between were bars and burger joints.  Something for everyone!

Now Uptown is…well, I don’t think I am off the mark to say that the bars — I mean the restaurants — are designed for the tastes of twenty- and thirtysomething young men striving to look hip and the fifty year old women who love them.  There is a faux sense of sophistication about the neighborhood.  Hardly the environment in which true prosperity seeks refuge and delight.

Which brings me to my opening analogy.  If a dying reef is a sign of a sick ocean, then can we say that dying restaurants are a sign of a sick neighborhood?  Or is that going too far.  It’s probably going too far because there are many fine places yet in Uptown — it is far from dying — and hosts a solid crowd of wonderful people, too.  However, just as a dying reef signals a change in the ocean so do dying restaurants signal a change.  When a Parella closes, it might only show that things have changed.  Life moves on, literally, migrating to other places better suited to sustain what seems to fail in Uptown now.

Saying that, however, where there is life there is hope.  Michael Larson, owner of the now closed Parella explained why his restaurant failed this way.  He said, “The neighborhood wanted a neighborhood joint, and I missed that mark badly,”  If this is the case, where is someone who will give the neighborhood what it supposedly wants?  Doing so might be the first step in restoring the district to what it was and reclaiming it from unshaven kids from suburbs.

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