Chef JP McMahon, who owns three Galway restaurants, has made the difficult decision to close one, Tartare, which focuses on small plates and natural wines.
artare’s last trading day is September 4th.
JP’s Michelin-starred Aniar and popular tapas restaurant Cava Bodega are unaffected.
The announcement follows recent news that celebrity chef Dylan McGrath’s restaurants Rustic Stone and Brasserie 66 in Dublin are undergoing a restructuring process to determine their profitability.
Tartare is not in financial difficulties and will pay all its suppliers in full. His employees all got jobs at McMahon’s other restaurants.
Five years ago JP and his wife and business partner Drigin Gaffey opened Tartare in Galway. The couple is now in the middle of an amicable split.
“We thought about it for a while,” McMahon said.
“It was a complicated decision. We went through each permutation: ‘Are we only going to open at night? only days? Only weekends?’
“It’s not just one thing, although I suppose Covid has been the catalyst for a lot of rethinking. The biggest problem for us at Tartare is that we lost all but one kitchen team.
“It has been difficult to bring the restaurant back to the standard it had operated before Covid.
“Not everyone would have noticed, but I knew it wasn’t delivering what I wanted. Before Covid it was really excellent.
“We lost the core team in all our restaurants but we managed to rebuild them in Cava and Aniar but we never made it in Tartare.
“It’s not that we’ve failed, it’s run its course and other things are to come. Another factor, of course, is separation.
“Drigin remains involved with Cava but not with Aniar and she wants to do other things.”
Drigin confirmed that she plans to turn her attention to her new life coaching business and the couple’s two daughters.
“We both agree that having a Michelin-starred restaurant and cava is enough without also having one with a Bib Gourmand,” added McMahon. “At Cava, our ESB bill has increased almost four times, our wages by 150 percent. At Tartare there was a breach in the rental agreement which presented an opportunity for a re-evaluation.
“I love what we did there – it was easy – oysters, tartare and natural wine and we did well.”
McMahon said he was proud of what he accomplished in Tartare and had no regrets. “I think I’m philosophical. Nothing is forever. Everyone is getting paid and none of the staff have lost their jobs so the people I feel sorry for are the repeat customers.”
The separating couple’s plans for a new Asian restaurant in Galway, for which they have already spent more than €10,000 in architect and legal fees, are also on hold.
“We wanted to buy the building but decided against it,” McMahon said. “I no longer feel like it’s a good time to open another place. I think it would be reckless.
“The big question is whether I would have enough staff.
“I’m just one person and it looks like I can fill in if a chef is missing in Aniar or Cava, but I can’t do that in three places.”
The hospitality industry, which is currently battered, is likely to see more closures, both forced and voluntary, in the coming months.
“There is a lot of thought going on among restaurant owners at the moment. Struck by a combination of Covid, the war in Ukraine, staffing issues, rising ingredient and electricity costs, and public concerns about disposable income, there can be no restaurant owner in the country who is unconcerned about the future,” he said McMahon said.
Country restaurants and restaurants in small towns with little or no corporate business are likely to be hit hardest as disposable incomes shrink.
Both of McGrath’s restaurants — as well as Fade Street Social, which is unaffected by the reorganization — will continue to operate (his Shelbourne Social did not reopen after restrictions were lifted).
Presumably, among other things, accountant Neil Hughes of Baker Tilly, the companies’ process adviser, will investigate whether the restaurants would have a better chance of profitability in the future if they changed course.
Rustic Stone already has a notice on its website stating that it has “evolved” and that its new menu combines the best of Taste at the Bonsai (another McGrath restaurant in the same building, now closed) and Rustic Stone, “to create a new fusion of stone kitchen, robata grill and Asian influences in the old spirit of Rustic Stone with something for everyone”.
Restaurants are just as vulnerable to fickle trends as the fashion and music industries. Do you remember nouvelle cuisine, fusion and molecular gastronomy?
Perhaps in a few years we will all chuckle at the memories of macerating and fermenting, embarrassed at how taken in by the Emperor’s new clothes of some very poorly made but expensive natural wines.
The fact of the matter is that restaurants, no matter how good they are, fall in and out of favor. Think of the hotspots of yesteryear – the Jammets, the Mirabeaus, the Cooke’s Cafes, the Town Bar and Grills – and ask where they are today?
Very few survive long-term without adapting and updating to maintain customer loyalty.
McGrath isn’t the first celebrity chef to realize that food rarely stands still. But he reinvented himself once before – the former MasterChef Ireland The judge held a Michelin star at The Mint in Ranelagh until the crash applied to that restaurant – and he will no doubt do so again.
Recognizing when something isn’t working and having the courage to face it and consider what might work instead is key to successful reinvention.
Ross Lewis, the chef and owner of Chapter One in Parnell Square, shocked the Irish food world last year when he announced he was handing over the reins of his Michelin-starred restaurant to Mickael Viljanen, formerly of The Greenhouse. But it turned out to be a super smart move.
Timing was key – Lewis acknowledged that Chapter One needed renewed energy to take it to the next level, and Lewis’ belief that Viljanen was the person to do it was vindicated when the restaurant opened just months after the acquisition through which Sweden received its second Michelin star.
Lewis still retains an interest in Chapter One, but now cooks at his more casual Italian restaurant, Osteria Lucio, and is beginning to achieve a better work-life balance after years of missing out on social events and family gatherings.
Conrad Gallagher received a Michelin star for his restaurant Peacock Alley at the age of 26, but had a checkered career in Ireland and emigrated to South Africa under a cloud.
Today he has successful restaurants in South Africa and is involved in projects in Dubai, the Maldives and the Middle East.
Kevin Thornton and his partner Muriel closed Thornton’s restaurant in Dublin in 2016 after it lost its Michelin star.
Today he works as a private chef and catering for special events, appears regularly at food festivals, gives cooking master classes and works as a brand ambassador for De Dietrich and others.
“It allows us to approach food in a more creative way beyond the walls of a restaurant,” Thornton said on his website, and it’s clear that forgoing the bricks and mortar of a restaurant has given the chef a newfound sense of freedom.
Neven Maguire has a hugely successful restaurant, MacNean House in Blacklion, Co Cavan, but he’s smart enough to have plenty of other projects running.
In addition to cookbooks and TV shows, he has been a brand ambassador for Dunnes Stores Simply Better Collection for more than six years and also has his own line of cookware, Dunnes.
Brian McDermott was forced to close his Foyle Hotel early in the pandemic but alongside regular media appearances he now works with Dunnes Stores mentoring Irish food and drink manufacturers, guiding them through the various stages of new product development to take their products from concept to launch under the Simply Better Collection.
Some well-known chefs have developed products such as condiments (Kwanghi Chan, Katie Sanderson and Holly Dalton) and pies and snacks (Donal Skehan), while others, such as Ballymaloe’s and Catherine Fulvio’s Allens and O’Connells, run culinary schools.
For JP McMahon, who will continue to operate his Food on the Edge symposium and culinary school, it is a relief to have made the decision to close without being forced to do so. “This is a difficult time for good food,” he said.
“The war in Ukraine has made things much worse. The myth of Europe exploded. Of course I’m sad, but the decision is pragmatic.
“There are mixed feelings. When do you put on the accountant’s hat? I was filled with youthful idealism at the beginning of my restaurateur career, but for anyone planning to open a restaurant that focuses on really good food, I would advise them to reconsider.
“Maybe the timing isn’t right. Good food is very expensive, and while places that sell cheaper, casual fare – burgers, pizza, wings – are fine, those using quality ingredients will find it very difficult.
“Even some of my own chefs wonder why we use the local $3.50 grass-fed chicken breast and not the 95 cent chicken breast when it seems like nobody cares.
“I’m still an idealist, but an element of pragmatism creeps in. is it age covid? Ideals are no longer enough. You can want to educate people about food all you want, but maybe at a certain point you think, “This isn’t going to work,” and you shrink a little to take care of yourself.
“The bigger you are, the harder you fall. You are not invincible and you rock to save the world. I didn’t want to use cheaper chicken, imported vegetables, and inferior quality coffee. The frenzy of idealism that has kept me going for the last 10 or 15 years? I’m starting to question it.”
JP McMahon sounds relieved after making the decision to close.
“A load is lifted from my shoulders, I feel like my life will be more balanced.”
https://www.independent.ie/life/food-drink/food-news/its-ta-ta-to-tartare-as-michelin-star-holder-jp-mcmahon-reveals-the-restaurant-ran-its-course-amid-upheaval-41924603.html It’s ta-ta for Tartare as Michelin-starred JP McMahon reveals the restaurant has “run its course” amid upheaval