Why Did Rye Deli Die On Hennepin?
Two-plus years ago TCB chronicled the opening of Rye, an artisanal deli-style restaurant opened by East Isles resident David Weinstein and longtime consultant Tobie Nidetz. The Twin Cities has had a checkered history with delis and Jewish food: Someone takes a stab once a decade to great local interest, the marketplace beats it up, and it closes.
Rye lasted long enough to give the impression it was thriving, though it was never all that busy, and some of its ethnic specialties were the subject of heated debate about their palatability. Rye was broadly acclaimed, though, for its smoked and cured meats.
Weinstein told TCB that though Rye continued to grow its top line month after month, it had not become profitable, and its made-from-scratch ethos in a low-check-average genre kept labor costs out of line, while meat costs were skyrocketing. He was also puzzled by the price sensitivity of his clientele, given the restaurant’s location at Hennepin and Franklin. “We’re the closest restaurant to East Isles and Lowry Hill,” he notes, with bemusement.
It’s not as if Rye wasn’t trying. “We were very ambitious,” he continues. “We promised so much.”
That was never really his intention, Weinstein recalls. Rye was modeled after Mile End, a tiny Brooklyn hipster restaurant with a small menu rooted in great smoked and cured meats. A 40-seat restaurant with an eight-item menu is a difficult sell outside New York City, though, and Rye’s concept quickly morphed into bakery, carvery, tavern and grill.
Ultimately, the label “deli” proved too limiting, thwarting Weinstein’s emphasis on seasonality. “We couldn’t take borscht off the menu out of season, people expected it,” Weinstein notes. “We tried to bridge the gap between Mile End and Cecil’s. . . . If we wanted to cut a lot of corners, the economics could have worked, but I didn’t want to diminish it.”
Weinstein owns the building and was unsure at press time what he intended to do with the space or structure, nor would he reveal his total investment. He doubted he’d ever recommend someone open a deli in Minneapolis. “You’d really have to be careful about managing expectations,” he says, quoting a former staffer: “ ‘Imagine opening a restaurant called Thanksgiving.’ ”