Foreign Legion closing, chef says city doesn't "give a shit" about restaurants

Foreign Legion will have its last service on April 16.

Foreign Legion will have its last service on April 16.

Russell and Desta Klein announced that they are closing their pizza- and pasta-focused restaurant Foreign Legion. The news comes three months after the couple pulled the plug on its sister restaurant, the more upscale Austrian-inflected Brasserie Zentral. Fans have until April 16 to bid the eatery a fond farewell.

The Kleins opened Brasserie Zentral and Foreign Legion in the downtown Minneapolis Soo Line Building to rave reviews in April 2014; they overhauled the Foreign Legion menu in August 2015 to focus on casual Italian fare. They sold Café Zentral, their casual counter-service outpost in the Minneapolis skyway to former employees last September; it is now World Cafe.

Klein is past the point of lamenting the demise of the restaurants, and looking forward to “having a life outside of work” again. But he remains frustrated by how much more difficult it is to open and run a restaurant in Minneapolis than in St. Paul, where the Kleins own the popular Meritage, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year.

“I didn’t feel at any time that anyone in city government gave a shit,” he says.

He contrasts the bureaucratic nightmare of Minneapolis to the restaurant-friendly environment in St. Paul, crediting Mayor Chris Coleman. “He understands that restaurants add a lot to our community,” says Klein, and consequently, “there are lots of people wanting to come to St. Paul.”

Klein points out that the downtown Minneapolis core has the highest food and beverage taxes in the country, making doing business in that area challenging. “Independent restaurants are struggling,” in downtown Minneapolis, he says.

Russell and Desta Klein will focus on their St. Paul restaurant, Meritage.

Russell and Desta Klein will focus on their St. Paul restaurant, Meritage.

Taxes aside, all the construction downtown hasn’t been easy for businesses to weather, either.

“I know that construction happens, and I’m all for repairing our infrastructure, but there are things the city could do to mitigate the impact of these projects that they haven’t done,” says Klein.

He doesn’t rule out revisiting the Foreign Legion concept in St. Paul in the future. “I am really proud of the food that we were doing there,” he says.

There is no word yet on who has claimed the Brasserie Zentral and Foreign Legion space, although Klein says it is a concept by a much larger company that doesn’t rely on special-occasion dining.

Foreign Legion

105 S. Fifth St., Minneapolis