The plan was to make the announcement at a press conference on Thursday, but the news slipped out: Smack Shack business partners Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald are buying the venerable Lexington restaurant in St. Paul.
“I’m super-excited about it,” said Thoma. “When it came up we knew that we had to do it. Any time that you’re given the opportunity to update and revitalize a historic landmark, well, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The restaurant’s current owners, John Hickey and Ed Ryan, shuttered the Grand Avenue institution on May 31, 2013. A previous sale fell through in July.
Thoma and Fitzgerald opened the Smack Shack in Minneapolis’ North Loop neighborhood last year, an ambitious and instantly packed bricks-and-mortar iteration of their equally popular food truck of the same name.
Thoma and Fitzgerald are partnering with former Butcher & the Boar chef Jack Riebel. Thoma and Riebel worked together when Riebel was running the Stillwater incarnation of La Belle Vie (Thoma was a previous co-owner). Riebel, also known for his long stint at the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant, opened B&TB in 2012 to great acclaim; it was the Star Tribune's 2012 Restaurant of the Year, and Riebel earned a 2013 Best Chef: Midwest nomination from the James Beard Foundation. He departed the downtown Minneapolis restaurant a few months ago.
“We’re very excited to have Jack as our business partner,” said Thoma. “I think he’s one of the most talented chefs in town. I very much enjoyed working with him in the past, and look forward to a long-lasting partnership.”
Thoma, Fitzgerald and Riebel all have connections to the Lex, if only tangentially. Fitzgerald currently resides about three blocks from the 76-year-old restaurant. When Thoma was a kid in St. Paul, his family spent 13 years in a house two blocks from the Lex. And Riebel grew up on Lexington Avenue. “His mother still lives there,” said Thoma.
Specifics will have to wait until Thursday. “But we plan on doing updates, revitalizing the existing dining rooms and bar programs,” said Thoma. “But that’s all we’re talking about for now.”