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Why Do Restaurants Fail?

The Shaw Bijou’s shutter, Obama’s restaurant choices, and other news you missed last week

The Shaw Bijou
The Shaw Bijou
R. Lopez/Eater DC

This post originally appeared in EIC Amanda Kludt’s “From the Editor” newsletter, a weekly recap of the most important intel in food and dining each week. Subscribe to Eater’s newsletter for more.

Headliner: The Shaw Bijou

I was chatting with a food editor in San Francisco earlier this week, and she mentioned that Single Thread, a wildly expensive and ambitious Sonoma opening, was the only restaurant she’s covered where the owners weren’t stressed about delays. They just had that much money in the bank from investors. I immediately thought of the Shaw Bijou, the DC restaurant that shut down last week just two and a half months after opening, following an extensive delay.

This was a highly-anticipated restaurant for a number of reasons: The chef Kwame Onwuachi was young and relatively untested, yet high profile (Top Chef, memoir deal); he chose a $185/head tasting menu format for his debut restaurant; it was one of the few high-end restaurants run by a Black chef. Once it opened, critics routinely and immediately panned it. Two months in, the chef lowered the prices and the course count, but it was too late.

Was it the food, the reviews, the price, the belabored-yet-earnest storytelling that came with every course? Yes, probably. Another SF food writer told me this piece we ran this week didn’t place enough blame on the “food media machine,” for which we both toil. As someone who’s fielded that critique for a decade now, I don’t really buy it.

Probably, more than anything, it was an investment problem. Operating a high-end restaurant that the critics quickly dismiss in a town with plenty of competition is expensive. But if you can’t build up enough capital to get it to its six-month anniversary, or at least see the new menu transition through, why open it in the first place? Why not open something else — maybe even the ambitious cafe you set out to open — if you require immediate success or returns? Perhaps the chef is to blame for the restaurant's failure, but did the business side set him up to succeed? And if we follow that logic … is VC money the only path to survival for a project of this stature?

Marc Much/Eater Chicago

Opening of the Week: Kitsune

Who’s behind it? Acclaimed Chicago chef and restaurateur Iliana Regan.

What is it? A 20-seat Japanese-influenced restaurant employing a good number of Midwestern ingredients. They’ll serve ramen, okonomiyaki, gyoza, wagyu, and a variety of other small and shareable dishes, as well as a $40 multi-course kaiseki menu at Sunday brunch.

Where is it? North Center, Chicago.

When did it open? Friday night, about 16 months after its announcement.

Why should I care? Regan is a modern-day culinary star with her Michelin-starred tasting menu spot Elizabeth, so it will be interesting to see what she does with a small, à la carte, Japanese-inflected restaurant. Also: her first batch of resys were snatched up within hours. Also: check out the bathroom mural.

chicken nuggets
Chicken nuggets
Nick Solares

Must Reads on Eater

What to Read Off Eater

  • The national success of small town chef Vivian Howard has reverberated throughout her town, attracting new tourists and businesses. [NYT]
  • He doesn’t actually say whether or not the food is good, but FWIW, here’s writer John Von Sothen on Thomas Keller’s fancy cruise ship partnership. [BA]
  • Here is a lot of speculation on whether or not Trump will bring in a new White House chef (trendy milkshake magnate Joe Isidori or loose canon David Burke?) and on Ivanka’s potential involvement in nutrition and gardening. [Politico]
  • Yes, food is political and can be used in protest. [F&W]
  • Lucas Peterson visits the last illegal mobile vendor in a former street food haven of Breed Street in LA. While street food is central to the identity of LA, it’s is the only major American city where there is no framework in place for legal vending. [Lucky Peach]

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