With an award-winning chef, accolades aplenty, and a reputation as the "most important restaurant in Minneapolis," La Belle Vie was supposed to stay open forever.
Instead, it will be closing on Oct. 24, ending nearly two decades as an icon of Minnesota's fine dining.
So what could possibly make La Belle Vie, which WCCO says was a "game-changer" when it first opened in Stillwater, close its doors?
As with many, many businesses, the almighty dollar – or the absence of it – is to blame.
The reasons are many; chef and co-owner Tim McKee told the Star Tribune it was combination of "changing consumer tastes, rising costs," competition from casual eateries, and a large-scale road construction project that made it difficult for diners to reach the restaurant.
Another problem, he told the newspaper, is that "people don’t have enough special occasions. The underlying message of all this is, if there’s a restaurant that means something to you and you really think is important, it’s your responsibility to keep them busy."
McKee was a little more pointed with Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine food critic Dara Grumdahl, telling her that the state's new minimum wage laws have also been a factor – which may have been exacerbated by the Working Families Agenda that Minneapolis is now pushing.
"We had to raise the minimum wage for all our tipped employees—bartenders, servers, wait assistants, food runners," even though some of them end up making as much as $40 an hour after tips, he told Grumdahl.
"The real failing is that the government recognizes their real wage (including tips) in regards to taxation," he said, "yet the government doesn’t recognize it in terms of the minimum wage."
Even though it won't be implemented until January at the earliest, McKee also described the Working Families Agenda as "horrible, horrible," saying he felt "betrayed by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges."
Controversy in the restaurant industry
The agenda would mandate that the city's small businesses – including restaurants – write their employee schedules 28 days in advance. The argument is that this would reduce the unpredictability of service workers' shifts and allow them to plan out their lives.
However, many restaurant owners are strongly opposed to the practice; they argue that the unpredictable nature of their industry – where business can be affected by everything from weather to the sudden arrival of large groups – makes such scheduling impossible.
Mayor Hodges, for her part, is now backing changes to the proposal in light of restauranteurs' concerns; among other modifications, the new agenda asks for only 14 days' notice for employee schedules.