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Owner blames downtown Minneapolis for third straight failed restaurant

Don't blame this youth skating down Nicollet Mall instead of eating at one particular restaurant. Blame Nicollet Mall itself.

Don't blame this youth skating down Nicollet Mall instead of eating at one particular restaurant. Blame Nicollet Mall itself. Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

If you never ate at Rojo Mexican Grill on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, which closed for good this month, don't worry, the owner doesn't really blame you.

Same goes if you didn't hang out at Randle's, the TV-light-bathed sports bar named for Vikings great John Randle which predated Rojo, and closed back in March.

And for Ling & Louie's Asian Bar & Grill (2014-2017), which opened in fall 2014 and begat the Randle's concept.

Three up, three down, in five years. Restaurateur Michael McDermott's ready to indict a culprit: downtown itself. In an interview with the Business Journal, McDermott blames a lack of parking, an excess of crime, and the "weak retail environment" (their words) for why he and his restaurant group don't "see the future... getting much better" (McDermott's) for downtown dining.

McDermott says one shooting in July and another in August "definitely had an impact" on Rojo's recent sales figures, and said more cops on the street would help business. He also cited an increased minimum wage ($12.25 for employers with more than 100 employees, as of July 1, $11.00 for those with fewer) and high property taxes as additional stressors.

McDermott's restaurant group still runs a Rojo in St. Louis Park, Tavern23 in Edina, and partnered with Andrew Zimmern to open Lucky Cricket, also in St. Louis Park. The financier's strongest complaints were reserved for downtown being an undesirable destination.

"I'm in the suburbs," McDermott told the Business Journal, "and I don't know anyone who goes downtown."

It's unclear how those shootings in July and August retroactively affected business at the long-closed Randle's or Ling &  Louie's, or why Rojo, which closed after a similarly short stint in the North Loop back in 2016, expected a longer lifespan on Nicollet Mall.

Meanwhile, Brit's, Zelo, the News Room, and McCormick & Schmick's have each been open on Nicollet Mall for at least 15 years each. Also still going: Barrio, which opened in 2008 and offers... pretty much the same food as Rojo tried to hawk... right next door.

McDermott's pessimism extends to the Dayton's Project, which seeks to revitalize the former Macy's (and, before that, Dayton's) department store down the block. "The Dayton's Project, in my opinion, will probably never happen," McDermott pronounced ominously.

That'd be bad news for his business partner, Zimmern, who's signed on to create a massive food hall and market in the building when it opens sometime next year.