The Shutdown Notebook: Gavin Kaysen announces three opening dates.

A weekly series about one chef who closed three restaurants during the pandemic—and intends to get them back.

It’s time to go back to work, to restaurant life beyond take-out: Guests, menus, place settings, multiple courses; masks, plastic shields, 60 percent occupancy and keep your distance, please.

Chef Gavin Kaysen has announced official opening dates for his three restaurants,  Bellecour, Demi, and Spoon and Stable, after three months of food to go, or, in the case of the 20-seat Demi, of nothing at all.

Bellecour’s bakery and patio will open on June 25, and the dining room will follow five days later. Demi will open on July 8, and Spoon and Stable, on July 10. Kaysen will shave an hour here and there, closing the bakery an hour early, opening the restaurants an hour late. He’ll eliminate the bar menu at Spoon and Stable, which was all about shared snacks, at least for the time being.

“I reserve the right to change my mind any damn time.”

It’s official—and equally up for grabs. “I told my team,” he said, “that I reserve the right to change my mind any damn time.”

Three months in, he’s still looking for certainty about any aspect of this process, and it continues to elude him. In Wayzata, a Minneapolis suburb, Bellecour is the only restaurant that isn’t yet open, which feels strange to a man who prizes a methodical approach. “It’s as though nothing has changed,” said Kaysen, bewildered, of scenes of happy people dining outdoors. “People are ready to go out to eat.” He refuses to hurry, though: He suspended take-out service on Sunday, June 14, to give the staff a full 10 days to get ready.

In the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis, Spoon and Stable and Demi used to sit midway between two veteran establishments, both of them Covid casualties, closed for good: the award-winning The Bachelor Farmer, gone after nine years, on April 30, and Moose and Sadie’s, a 29-year-old café that followed suit on May 19.

While Kaysen remains nervous about reopening his restaurants, he’s confident in his team’s ability to move forward together.

Dave Puente

“I feel a heavier weight on my shoulders,” said Kaysen. There’s plenty of parking on a street where guests used to circle for a half hour without finding a space, because nearby office buildings aren’t yet up and running, but restaurant history has gone out of business around him.

As relieved as he is to get back to work, he still isn’t sleeping. “I’m nervous,” he said. “Excited to get back into the spaces, but nervous because it’s something new, again. Nervous how people will respond. Nervous how the team will respond. Nervous we won’t be prepared enough.”

“But I’m confident we have the team of people to figure out with me what to do.”

There are short-term challenges, including how to make sure a Demi tasting menu fits comfortably into the CDC’s recommended two-hour dinner window. There are long-term challenges involving reduced occupancy and survival: Kaysen says his restaurants can make it to the end of 2020 at 60 percent occupancy; in 2021 he needs to be running at full capacity.

But that’s down the line. Right now it’s time to make plans and place orders and print disposable menus and distribute a new batch of masks to the staff.

The Shutdown Notebook will be back for each of the openings—and back, as the story dictates, after that, because the openings aren’t the end of a difficult interlude. They’re the start of whatever restaurants are about to become.

Karen Stabiner is The Counter's West Coast editor and the author of Generation Chef, about a young chef who opens his first restaurant. Karen teaches at the Columbia University graduate school of journalism; to learn more about her books and articles, visit karenstabiner.com.

Gavin Kaysen is a winner of the 2018 James Beard award for best chef, Midwest region, owns three restaurants in the Minneapolis area: Spoon and Stable, Demi, and, in nearby Wayzata, Bellecour. He was executive chef at Café Boulud in New York City, where he won the Beard Rising Star award and a Michelin star, and at El Bizcocho in San Diego. Kaysen mentors the next generation through the nonprofit Ment'or BKB Foundation, and trains the United States team for the international Bocuse d’Or competition. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two sons.