It was just closed on Thursday, due to a water heater problem. I checked in with a manager today and he said they expect to re-open the eatery in front of Crossroads Shopping Center at noon today.
Here's some from my column on the culinary changes at the Kahler hotels.
Local food fans in the know may recognize the names Tommie Tran and Duc Le. Tran used to own and operate The Lunch Box in the old downtown food court, previously on the third floor of the Galleria Mall, now University Square. Le comes from the Canadian Honker and Powers Ventures.
Rochester's Kahler Hospitality Group is cooking again, with a new pair of executive chefs, who are turning the classic Lord Essex restaurant into a prime steak house.
Chefs Tommie Tran and Duc Le recently were promoted to take over the duties of Chef Stewart "Shefzilla" Woodman, who recently left after a short run at the Kahler hotels to return to the Twin Cities.
"Both are banquet savvy and restaurant savvy," said Tyler Kase, area director of food and beverage for Kahler Hospitality Group, of the two Rochester chefs.
Tran and Le now are in charge of the culinary operations of the Kahler Grand Hotel and its sister hotels, which includes Lord Essex, The Grand Grill, Salute, Martini's, CB3, Freshens and Dunkin Donuts.
The hotels and restaurants are controlled and owned, in part, by local health-care executive and real estate developer Javon Bea and his family.
Kase, area director of food and beverage for Kahler Hospitality Group, says the first project for the culinary duo is upgrading the fabled Lord Essex in the Kahler Grand Hotel into a steak house serving only USDA prime cuts of beef.
With the closure of Rochester's beloved Michaels restaurant, he said it was decided there was a need for a classic steak house.
The change is underway and the plan is to officially re-launch Lord Essex this summer. It will serve eight prime cuts of steak in different portions, according to Kase.
Diners should expect an opportunity to "meet the meat" before getting their menus. Servers will roll a cart up to the table to display the prime cuts as well as lobsters and examples of Lord Essex's jumbo, one-pound baked potatoes.
"We're going for the 'wow factor,'" he said.
While the Lord Essex will feature many new menu items, it also will be serving long-time local favorites. That means the Duchess potato soup plus the French onion soup, which is being brought back by popular demand.
After the relaunch of Lord Essex, Tran and Le will turn their attentions to Salute in the Marriott hotel to more finely "hone" the Italian cuisine there.
Kahler Hospitality Group has an estimated 50 to 70 employees staffing its food venues.
Getting hungry waiting for food trucks to finally get the green light to be in downtown Rochester?
As of Tuesday you can enjoy a hot dog on the Peace Plaza while you wait.
The spring winds have spurred Rick "Murph" Murphy and his hot dog cart to migrate back to Rochester. Weather permitting, he's planning on putting up his umbrella in front of the Wells Fargo building and open for business on Tuesday.
While he has mixed up his menu some over the years, he plans to focus on the basics - hot dogs, chips and pop - this season.
"Whatever I tried in the past hasn't gone over big. Customers just want the same best all beef wiener that they have enjoyed for a decade," stated Murphy in an email.
This is the Pine Island's 11th season hawking dogs to the herds of hungry downtown workers looking for a quick lunch and some fresh air.
That means he has been around downtown longer than the University of Minnesota-Rochester, Grand Rounds, Chester's, the Minnesota BioBusiness Center, 300 First, Social Ice, 318 Commons, Big Brad's, Hot Shots! and lots of other changes.
He was already selling dogs when people started saying "Rah-Rah" about Rochester. He was downtown long before it became "The Place To Be." He was here back when DMC was just part of the name of an '80s rap group.
Quite simply, downtown is Murph's turf.
Chef Stewart "Shefzilla" Woodman's short tenure in Rochester is over.
The award-winning chef and cookbook author came to the Med City in September to take the reins of the culinary operations of the Kahler Grand Hotel and its sister hotels. The Kahler Hospitality Group'srestaurants include The Grand Grill, Salute, Martini's, Crossings Bistro, Lord Essex, Freshens and Dunkin Donuts.
The hotels and restaurants are controlled and owned, in part, by local health-care executive and real estate developer Javon Bea and his family.
While it seemed last fall that the high-profile chef was planning for a long run in Rochester, Twin Cities media is reporting that Woodman started a new job this week as executive chef at Lela. Lela is a high-end Minneapolis eatery located on the northwest corner of Interstate 494 and Highway 100.
Mpls.St. Paul Magazine is reporting that Woodman is excited about the new role, because his gig in Rochester did not allow him much time to actually cook or manage a kitchen.
Michael Henry, Kahler's managing director of human resources, didn't return either a call or an email today asking for details about the change and if Woodman has been replaced yet.
Kahler Hospitality has been tweaking its restaurants in recent years to keep up with the increasingly competitive Rochester food scene. Woodman's departure could set that process back a bit.
Prior to Woodman, Kahler Hospitality employed Chef Pasquale Presa from 2011 to 2015 to spice up its menus. Chef Pasquale is now the executive chef at Kalahari Resorts & Conventions in the Wisconsin Dells.
Two area chefs are creating a downtown Rochester restaurant to offer "an eclectic mix of adventurous and innovative comfort food" in a historic building.
Chefs Erik Kleven and Erik Paulsen are fulfilling their dreams of opening their own place, the Bleu Duck Kitchen, by taking over the entire first floor of the 115-year-old Conley-Maass building at 14 Fourth St. SW. That's the brick building being renovated by owners Traci and Hunter Downs
"This is a great chance to break out on our own," said Kleven, currently the executive chef at Four Daughters Vineyard in Spring Valley.
Creating a 60-seat "New American Bistro"-style restaurant with a separate special events space in the Conley-Maas building is a particularly good fit, said Paulsen. who also worked at Four Daughters as Riverside on the Root and Vintage in Lanesboro.
"The building is in tune with we're doing," he said. "We're going to serve classic dishes with new novel twists. We want to make interesting, but approachable food."
That translates into possible menu items, like chicken roulade with waffle bread pudding stuffing, maple syrup and collard greens or ratatouille with parmesan funnel cake and hollandaise whipped potatoes. They plan to use fresh, locally grown ingredients.
If everything goes according to plan, the duo hopes to have the Bleu Duck cooking by mid- to late August. Kleven plans to wrap up his transition from Four Daughters. They expect to have a staff of 25 to 30 working at the Bleu Duck.
Rochester architect Adam Ferrari of 9 Square is designing the restaurant with an emphasis on "letting the historic building talk." The plan is for exposed brick, mute tones with an emphasis on the kitchen.
"We'll have the focus on a bright, clean, white kitchen at the center," said Paulsen.
A small "Chef's Counter" will located by kitchen. Customers sitting there will be served special, chef-chosen dishes.
The front portion of the main floor of the building will house the dining room, bar and kitchen. The back area will be used for special private events with room to seat up to 100 people.
The pair chose the name to represent an adventurous approach to cuisine. While they were both at Four Daughters, they would have "Blue Duck" days for the staff to experiment and try out new dishes and techniques. The name cames from the Adam Sandler move, "Billy Madison." As an adult in a first grade classroom, Sandler's character drew a blue duck, "because I've never seen a blue duck."
"We try to not take ourselves too seriously," said Paulsen.
The Conley-Maass renovation project has been lauded as an example of the kind of development that many hope Rochester's Destination Medical Center initiative attracts. The Downs see this new restaurant as being of the same spirit as their transformation of the older building into an innovative technology office center.
"We've been in discussions and talks with several interested parties about the space and it wasn't until we met the duo that we knew had the right match for the building," said Traci Downs.
After about a year in the Shops at University Square shopping center, City Wines and Spirits is moving to a new downtown Rochester home as well as taking on a new name.
City Wines and Spirits is tucked away on the mall's first floor between Lenscrafters and the former Michaels Restaurant. Now the shop that bills itself as "Rochester's Only Downtown Wine, Beer and Liquor Store" is planning to move across Broadway to the lobby of the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, according to Sheila Thoma.
The liquor store is slated to move into the retail space at the corner of Broadway and Second Street Southeast. It was last occupied by Deb Frederick's Tableside Manor gift shop, which has moved to another downtown spot.
"We are looking forward to this new location with it being right on the street and in the hotel. We are waiting to solidify a couple last steps. If all does go as intended, we plan to open early April," Thoma said via email on Monday.
Thomas is the marketing director for Titan Development & Investments, which owns University Square, the Doubletree Hotel as well as City Wines. Titan also owns Andy's Liquor, which has four Rochester locations.
As part of the move, Thoma says the store is "rebranding as Andy’s Liquor Downtown."
That will bring the number of Andy's stores in Rochester up to five.
After many months of on again, off again construction, it sounds like a new southeast Rochester commercial center could be ready for business soon.
Construction of a 5,040-square-foot retail building began last summer in front of the Eastwood Plaza at 1513 12 St. S.E. A variety of issues, including an easement dispute, have slowed the progress of the project.
But that is all in the past now, according to Ari Kolas. Kolas is one of the owners of Eastwood Plaza under the name of Athena 2004 LLC. He also is an owner of Rochester-based Apollo Wine & Spirits, which has one of its six Rochester stores based in Eastwood Plaza. It also has a franchised store in the Shoppes on Maine development in the southwest quadrant and a store in Austin.
"It should be done sometime in early June," he said.
The new building has three retail spots, two of which already are leased. When completed, Cricket Wireless and Little Caesars Pizza are slated to move in and open for business.
The third space, which includes a drive-up window, still is available, according to Kolas. He is hoping to find a food establishment of some sort as a tenant.
This Eastwood project is one that Kolas has been thinking about for a long time.
"I always wanted to do something on the outlot. I was just waiting for the proper opportunity to do it. The climate is good for it now with the growth of Rochester," he said previously. "It's been in the back of my head forever. It's got awesome visibility."
Kolas is enthusiastic about the intersection of 12th Street Southeast and Marion Road, which Athena 2004 bought for $1.6 million in 2004.
"It's a great corner that people forget about. It really is a great neighborhood," he said. — Jeff Kiger
The return of Indian cuisine to downtown Rochester has some fans celebrating.
"Some customers were so happy to see Indian food again that they were just dancing around in circles," said Anuradha Dhumne of the opening of Blue Diamond Indian Cuisine in the First Avenue Food Court in Rochester's downtown skyway.
Anuradha and her husband, Anil Dhumne, launched Blue Diamond on Monday in a food-court spot last occupied by Azteca Mexican restaurant.
"We serve authentic Indian food, sometimes with a twist," said Anuradha Dhumne.
In addition to traditional Indian meat entrees, they have a wide variety of vegetarian dishes for people looking for that option. The menu includes favorites of Indian cuisine such as tandoori chicken, curries, kabobs, samosas and fresh naan bread.
Blue Diamond has three on staff, including Anuradha Dhumne.
"There's a lot of interest. There's a gap here that we are filling," said Anil Dhumne. "People are finding our food is a festival of taste and flavor on your tongue."
Blue Diamond is settling in this week. The Dhumnes plan to ramp things up soon by offering a morning breakfast next week, an afternoon "snack" of tea and samosas and catering services.
They have been looking for a spot to open for about a year. Some people might remember the Blue Diamond booth at area farmer's markets and festivals.
"This has long been her dream," Anil said. "Location is key. I think we got a good spot."
Rochester's Old Country Buffet has served its final serving of mashed potatoes and gravy.
Officials the chain's parent company, Ovation Brands, confirmed Tuesday morning that the Rochester location is closed for good.
This is despite signs on the door stating that the restaurant at 1300 Salem Road SW is closed for "an asset inventory." Employees said on Monday that they had been told that after the "asset inventory" that the restaurant would re-open on Wednesday.
The sign on the front door states an employee meeting is scheduled for this afternoon. Presumably, details about the closing will be shared then.
This closing is just one of many for the Greer, South Carolina-based Ovation Brand, which is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the third time in eight years. In February, the company closed about 30 percent of its various 243 brand restaurants. It also operates HomeTown Buffet and Ryan’s.
OCB recently closed its restaurants in Maple Grove, Coon Rapids and St. Cloud, along with Rochester. The only two Minnesota restaurants now listed on OCB's website are Burnsville and Mankato.
Old Country Buffet got its start in Minnesota in 1983 and as recently as 2008 had 626 stores, before declaring bankruptcy twice. In 2014, the corporate office in Eagan had about 125 employees.
The sign recently went up for Blue Diamond Indian Cuisine in front of the vendor spot last occupied by Mexican eatery.
I haven't talked to them yet, but I pretty sure Blue Diamond is vendor some people might remember from summer events at the Squash Blossom Farm in Douglas.
I should have more on this soon.