OM closed, owner Vikram Uppal mum on "Shanghaied" NYE party debacle
In the wake of a disastrous New Year's Eve party hosted by Thrifty Hipster's Matthew Dowgwillo, it has become clear that OM -- the party's original venue -- has closed.
Owner Vikram Uppal had been silent as to the status of his restaurant and declined interviews. In an initial email response to questions about the failed "Shanghaied: New Year's Eve 2011" event, he said only, "The current status of OM does not have anything to do with this."
Uppal was a teenage real estate wunderkind, beginning work with his father at Uppal Enterprises at 18. In 2007, when Twin Cities Business magazine named him an "Emerging Leader," he boasted $25 million in real estate developments. The University of St. Thomas grad told the magazine he hoped to inspire others "to be the next Jack Welch, or the next Vik Uppal!"
In 2008, he jumped into the high-end restaurant game by opening OM on the first floor of the historic 401 First Avenue North building, which he owns. The restaurant specialized in high-end contemporary Indian cuisine crafted by James Beard Award-nominated cookbook author and chef Raghavan Iyer.
Then Uppal's name started popping up in the papers under less auspicious circumstances. In February last year, he told the Star Tribune he was working with lenders to resolve a $13 million debt on one of his apartment complexes.
This summer, Iyer quit his consulting job at OM, incensed that Uppal was ignoring his advice. He says he had to sue Uppal for his remaining wages.
"The main owner has no experience with restaurants. There's a lot of meddling," says Iyer.
In November, word got out that 401 First Avenue North was in foreclosure.
The foreclosure announcement set off rumors that OM was destined to close, and TC Food Finds tweeted they'd be shut by Janurary 1. Uppal denied the rumor.
December brought word of an epic New Year's Eve bash hosted at the restaurant by local promoter Thrifty Hipster. The invitation for "Shanghaied" promised an extravagant Asian speakeasy theme, with acrobats, go-go dancers, casino-style table games, and Japanese bondage art all going on in unused space within 401 North First Avenue. Tickets ranging from $45-95 were snapped up by 1,000 eager revelers.
Behind the scenes, however, trouble was brewing. The invitation went out long before anyone thought to call the city, according to Minneapolis's licensing manager Grant Wilson. He had to find out about it from a flyer.
"Somebody turned in one of those to us," he says. "We sent them a notice saying, 'You can't have a party in space you don't have permits for.'"
The invite that sparked the city's interests.
Wilson says that missive landed with Uppal on December 17. He says he didn't receive an application for the necessary "expansion of premises" permit until 4 p.m. on December 28.
When Wilson dispatched a building and fire code inspector to OM on the 29th, the report came back that the warehouse-like space did not have an elevator or enough exits for a crowd of more than 50. With only one more day before the city closed early for the holiday, the permit was denied.
"It wasn't a safe place to occupy. We couldn't allow them to have that event," says Wilson.
What followed was total chaos. Promoter Matthew Dowgwillo says he nearly came to fisticuffs with Uppal. The venue was hastily switched with hours to spare to the Graves Hotel a few blocks away.
In the hasty transition, several of the party's advertised amenities fell away. Guests reported no gaming tables, no separate dance floors, no acrobats or contortionists, and a bar so choked it took nearly an hour to get a drink. That is, before drinks ran out entirely.
Dozens of furious party-goers have been posting to Thrifty Hipster's Facebook page and demanding refunds. Since the debacle, Dowgwillo has been very vocal about who is to blame, emailing angry guests, "Let's just say there was one guy in this whole thing from OM that profited and screwed everyone else."
Uppal has declined interview requests, writing in a brief email that he and Dowgwillo are working together to get refunds to people.
But Dowgwillo claims his entire slice of the estimated paid attendance of $60,000 went to the Graves, and it's unclear if refunds will be issued or not. Some partygoers are reporting partial refunds from the online ticket seller Tempo Tickets.
At first, Uppal also did not directly answer whether OM is closed or open. No one is answering the phones at OM. It's also no longer possible to make reservations at OM on Open Table.
Inside the defunct OM.
Neighboring businesses report they haven't seen any activity there since New Year's Day.
One nearby vendor who asked to remain nameless walked across the street at City Pages's request. He asked a man in a sous chef coat outside if he worked at OM, then relayed the response: "He says they are completely closed forever."
Finally, in a second email, Uppal acknowledged that OM closed after January 1.
"We are currently evaluating our options with re-concepting," he wrote.
As for Shanghaied, the permit issue, and potential refunds, Uppal wrote only, "Once the party was moved from OM we had no operational involvement."
Former consulting chef Iyer says he hadn't heard about the closing of OM, but isn't surprised.
"It's a shame that he chose to function the way he did," he says of Uppal. "I hope this is learning lesson for him."
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