Perhaps Chicago’s most shocking restaurant news of the year comes 11 days before 2017’s end, as Grace — one of Chicago’s two restaurants with a full three stars from Michelin — has lost the largest two reasons for its massive success. The New York Times reports that chef Curtis Duffy and general manager Michael Muser quit over a dispute with the restaurant’s owner. Over the last five years, the West Loop institution has made a star out of Duffy, who along with Muser created one of the city’s most memorable fine dining experiences.
While the Times reported that the restaurant was still open as usual for Wednesday dinner service, several would-be diners told Eater Chicago that their Wednesday reservations were canceled. They were notified by terse phone calls from restaurant staff. That leaves the future of the restaurant in question; there were reports that most of the kitchen resigned on Tuesday, as well.
The two reportedly tried to buy the restaurant, but months of negotiations were meritless. Muser departed December 1 and Duffy left on Monday, according to the Times. The building’s owner and the restaurant’s main investor is prominent Chicago real estate agent Michael Olszewski. Muser and Duffy weren’t reached for comment, but released a statement through a spokeswoman. They mentioned they were proud of their “first restaurant,” perhaps alluding to future projects.
“While incredibly difficult to step away, it became evident that our evolving goals and aspirations were no longer aligned with the restaurant and its future, making this change necessary,” the statement read.
As Chicagoans enjoy affordable tasting-menu options at restaurants like Entente and Elske, Grace proudly touted a $200-per-person charge. Duffy’s story was chronicled in the documentary For Grace. Grace and Alinea, in Lincoln Park, are the only restaurants in Chicago that can tout three Michelin stars.
Muser and Duffy’s decision to walk away is already causing shockwaves in Chicago’s dining community:
There is no Grace restaurant without Michael Muser and Curtis Duffy. It doesn’t exist. I feel for everyone out there who put their soul in to Grace including Amy Cordell who is one of the best FOH people anywhere. Curtis and Michael will rise again. https://t.co/cf2Gbz7OTd— Michael Nagrant (@MichaelNagrant) December 20, 2017
Wow...just wow. This is huge hit to Chicago dining scene. https://t.co/tRprLgwVgc— Paul Leddy (@pleddy) December 20, 2017
Chicago has seen its share of high-profile shutters this year, including Michelin-starred Tru and 42 Grams, but this may be the biggest. Read Duffy and Muser’s full statement below, and stay tuned for news on their next moves and on Grace’s future.
On Grace’s opening night in December 2012, we stood before our team with exhilaration for the journey that lie ahead. The room was charged with anticipation and the kind of excited nerves that can only be incited by a restaurant’s first dinner service. That moment both punctuated the end of a long, intense road to opening and the beginning of something that would become even larger than we imagined.
For the next five years, we pushed. We pushed our service team to learn more, work harder. We pushed our culinary team to constantly consider the possibilities and exercise laser focus. And above all, we pushed ourselves and our colleagues to emulate the qualities befitting of our restaurant’s very name. Time and time again, they rose to the occasion.
It is, therefore, with heartfelt gratitude that we announce our departure from Grace. While incredibly difficult to step away, it became evident that our evolving goals and aspirations were no longer aligned with the restaurant and its future, making this change necessary.
We are very proud of our first restaurant, and more than anything, wish to thank everyone who has been part of this defining phase of our lives. The Michelin stars, the recognition, the opportunities, the joy – these are all owed to our team’s unwavering commitment, to our supportive loved ones and to the countless guests who chose to spend their precious time dining with us. We are humbled that they allowed us into their lives and shared in our story.
As this chapter ends, another begins. We plan to spend quality time with our families as we develop our next project. The future holds much in store.
—Curtis Duffy and Michael Muser