Lucia's Restaurant is closing after 32 years

Star Tribune file

Star Tribune file

 Lucia's Restaurant will close after a three decade run in Uptown Minneapolis.

The Star Tribune broke news of Lucia's imminent end on Monday afternoon. The restaurant's last day of service will be October 14.

When chef/owner Lucia Watson opened the restaurant in 1985, it was recognized as a local leader in the farm-to-table food movement. Eight years later, Watson added Lucia's Wine Bar next door, and Lucia's To Go cafe opened in 2006.

Watson stayed on at the helm of all three until 2014, when she sold the business to an ownership group that includes Jason Jenny, a surgeon who is also a majority investor in Stella's Fish Cafe a few blocks from Lucia's. 

About 18 months after the ownership changeover, head chef Ryan Lund departed; his replacement lasted only a couple months, and yet another chef was brought in. 

As City Pages wrote earlier this year, a diner could still count on getting a good meal, even a great one, at Lucia's.

But stories swirled of mistreatment and dissatisfaction among people working there:

On and off the record, there was a consensus building: Lucia’s was not doing “pretty damned good,” as my headline declared. The new ownership was doing nothing to uphold the standards of the beloved old cafe.
“The new ownership has done a terrible job carrying the Lucia’s legacy,” one commenter insisted. “They have greatly degraded the brand and have treated the staff (who actually run the business) horribly. With profit as the only thing that matters, poor decision after poor decision will slowly (or quickly) bring the amazing institution that was Lucia’s to a close.”
There were accusations that the vanguard of the local farm-to-table movement didn’t even order local butter anymore. Another commenter simply said the new management treats staff “like shit.”

One former employee said new owners took a "business first" approach to running the restaurant, and that "95 percent" of previous Lucia's employees either quit or got fired. 

Jenny, for his part, told the Star Tribune a lack of available parking was the major issue in keeping Lucia's business going: A condo complex was built atop a parking lot previously available to Lucia's customers, and Jenny says restaurant sales dropped off by 50 percent over the next six months.

"We've tried everything -- everything -- and it's just not going to work," Jenny told the newspaper.

Watson sounded wistful when reflecting on her longtime business coming to an end. "That little restaurant had a great run," she said.