From Piccolo to Esker Grove

Doug Flicker in the kitchen at Esker Grove. Photo by Sheila Regan

It’s endings and beginnings for revered chef Doug Flicker and his wife, Amy Greely, who announced in December their award winning restaurant, Piccolo, is set to close.

While foodies will surely despair at the loss of the fine dining establishment, it also marks the beginning of new things for both Flicker and Greely, and for the space, where two former staff members will start up a new venture.

“It’s very emotional but I wouldn’t say it’s sad,” said Greely, who runs the business end of things, while Flicker focuses on the art of food. “Sometimes when a restaurant closes, you have to close. We don’t have to, but we are choosing to for many reasons.”

According to Greely, the dining scene in the Twin Cities has changed a lot in the last seven years. With the closing of other fine dining restaurants like La Belle Vie, Saffron, and Heartland, “We could stay open for another year or two, but we definitely see the patterns of people only coming for their birthday, or for their anniversary,” Greely said.

Meanwhile, “you don’t have to go to fine dining to get that kind of food anymore,” said Greely. “A lot of people are doing farm to table, the fresh food, the more interesting things. The accessibility to really good food is kind of everywhere right now.”

But change isn’t always bad.

With the closing of Piccolo comes new adventures for the couple, including a new consultancy at the Walker Art Center. They’re working through the management company Culinaire, who also run Fica and Sea Change at other arts institutions in town.

“They are a great company that focuses on quality,” Greely said. “They want museums to represent what they are, and find the people that can make that happen.”

Flicker wrote the menu for Esker Grove, the Walker’s new restaurant, set the theme and hired the staff. He’ll be a consultant there for five years, but “won’t be the guy that will be there five days a week,” Greely said.

Meanwhile, Piccolo will switch hands to a couple of Flicker’s former staff, Cameron Cecchini and Grisha Hammes.

“They are making it even smaller,” Greely said, describing a 16-seat restaurant with a bar and an open kitchen and no servers. Meanwhile, Greely and Flicker still own the building and have their eyes out for the next opportunity.

“We would like to open another place, but it has to be the right place on our terms,” she said. “Piccolo was Doug’s dream and it was on his own terms. Change is hard, but change is good.”