Bachelor Farmer closure shakes weary restaurant industry

Pairing cocktails
The Bachelor Farmer restaurant in Minneapolis in June 2013. Eric and Andrew Dayton, sons of former Gov. Mark Dayton, this week announced the closure of the restaurant.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News 2013

This sixth week of Minnesota's stay-at-home order has brought a rash of permanent business closures.

Twin Cities mainstays Izzy's Ice Cream and El Burrito Mercado have each closed one of multiple locations. And Thursday, the seemingly untouchable Dayton brothers announced the closure of The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis.

Eric Dayton declined an interview request, but restaurateurs across the Twin Cities are talking about the closure.

“It's terrifying and it's heartbreaking,” said Nick Rancone, the owner of Revival, a restaurant specializing in southern fried chicken with two locations in St. Paul and one in Minneapolis.

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Rancone said the closure isn’t necessarily an indication that other restaurants won’t make it.

The Bachelor Farmer specialized in fine dining. Rancone said that doesn't translate well as takeout. And even if the Daytons held on a bit longer, restaurateurs aren't expecting full dining rooms for at least a year, whether through regulation or customer hardship. Rancone said the closure signals strong decision-making, as much as it does heartache and crisis.

“If there's ever anybody that's going to be astute from a business perspective and being able to look long term, I think the Daytons have a really good ability to kind of look at what's coming down the pipeline,” Rancone said. “When you look at like the more mom and pop operations trying to keep the doors open day to day, that's a really tough way to think about things. So, I'm assuming that they are just the tip of the iceberg [when it comes to closures].”

Though Rancone had to furlough many workers, he counts Revival as one of the lucky ones. It already did takeout and just launched an app to take online orders without having to pay commissions as high as 30 percent to companies like Grub Hub and Door Dash.

Rancone estimates he's making about half the revenue he was before coronavirus and knows there's additional demand to meet if he can just work out some kinks.

Stephanie March, at food and dining editor for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, is confident many restaurant owners will work out the kinks, eventually.

“I think that there's a lot of innovation to be found within this industry still,” she said.

While we may be mourning the loss of restaurants now, March said we'll likely be celebrating innovation and creativity in our restaurant scene tomorrow. For example, Izzy's Ice Cream has closed its St. Paul location but is launching ice cream delivery on Monday. And Travail Kitchen in Minneapolis recently launched Travail Marketplace, a shop where customers can pick up ingredients from the farmers who would usually supply the restaurant.

“I think we're going to see a little bit more of that,” March said.

Diane Paterson is associate director of the Small Business Development Center at the University of St. Thomas. She said the 2008 recession sparked a lot of innovation, and she's already seeing hints of that now.

“We're starting to see clients contacting us, wanting to start a business,” Paterson said. “There's been a lot of layoffs and people start looking at entrepreneurship as a way to develop job security on their own.”

That doesn’t mean everything is rosy. Far from it. Paterson is helping a lot of frustrated business owners navigate federal stimulus loan programs. And she warns that banks may be too stretched by those loan programs to offer start-up funding.

When it comes to restaurants, Revival's Rancone said things will have to change on the other side of the pandemic. He said restaurants will need to raise menu prices to be sustainable, and he’s urging them to do it together.

“I think [Momofuku chef] David Chang said, the restaurant industry is like a herd of wildebeests. By ourselves, we are all prey,” Rancone said. “When we all stick together, we have massive strength.”

In a letter to his customers, The Bachelor Farmer's Eric Dayton says he supports the governor's stay-at-home order despite its damage to businesses. Rancone said he, too, is prioritizing safety — reopen too soon and it could mean a lot more wildebeests on the menu.