3-Michelin-Star Grace Closes After Kitchen Staff Walks Out in Wake of Chef Quitting

After the co-founders announced they’d quit, the rest of the staff followed them out the door.

curtis duffy grace Photo: courtesy Grace

Chicago now only has one three-Michelin star restaurant, and the U.S. only 13. After founders Curtis Duffy and Michael Muser announced yesterday that they had quit their acclaimed restaurant Grace, much of the staff walked out with them, and restaurant’s primary investor decided it would be best to close the doors permanently. And the restaurant Grace is no more.

The rift between Duffy (the restaurant’s chef), Muser (the GM and wine director) and Michael Olszewski (the wealthy real estate investor who was the principal stakeholder) has reportedly been growing for months. So Duffy and Muser had tried to purchase the restaurant from Olszewski to gain creative and financial control. When those talks completely fell through, the founding duo and visionaries behind Grace decided to leave.

Contrary to initial reports by the Times, Muser left on December 1, and Duffy had remained at the restaurant until this past Monday. It was Duffy’s departure this week that sealed the restaurant’s fate.

“This was a difficult decision for me to make, but it’s in the best interest of everyone involved,” Olszewski said in a statement to the Chicago Sun-Times. “This space will live to see another day with yet another great restaurant headed by a new team that will make Chicago and the restaurant community proud.”

Duffy and Muser opened Grace in 2012, and became only the second Chicago restaurant with three Michelin stars in 2015. Duffy, who had worked for legendary chefs Charlie Trotter and Grant Achatz created a season, contemporary style of cuisine that didn’t veer as modernist as the food he made at Alinea, but was still progressive.

The story of creating and executing his fine dining vision was documented in the film For Grace, which dove into Duffy’s backstory as a chef. He originally got into cooking as a refuge during a troubled upbringing (his father killed his mother in a murder suicide), and he has committed himself to his craft ever since. So this was so much more than just a job to him, he’s literally called cooking his saving grace.

Here is the full statement from Duffy and Muser about their departure.

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.

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