After 18 months building a reputation for some of the city’s most clever food and drink, partners Eric Morris, Chase Murcino and Adam Burress will close Loop 22 when dinner service ends on Saturday, May 23.
The closure also will terminate the partnership between the three men as Morris joins chefs Dustin Staggers (Roux), Griffin Paulin (Rumplings Slurp Shop) and Ethan Ray (Roux) in creating a new, yet-to-be named concept.
The breakup also will pave the way for Murcino and Burress to create a new and more casual restaurant within the Loop 22 space.
“We’re still carving into stone what that concept will be, so we really don’t have the full ability to explain it yet,” Burress said. “But it will be more casual than Loop.”
Beyond the sometimes near-heroic efforts of Loop’s partners to overcome closures due to frozen, burst pipes, scarce parking and labor costs, they’ve also battled guests’ cognitive dissonance over the restaurant’s minimalist décor and its fine-dining quality food. Unkind as it may sound, it really was sort of “conflicted casual.”
According to chef/co-owner Morris, “Guests said the food and décor didn’t match — that the décor looked like three restaurants duct-taped together.” He estimated $50,000 in capital improvements would be necessary to lift Loop’s look to the level of its offerings, but no such cash infusion was coming.
“The business could have carried on and kept going; it was making enough to do that, so we were not forced to close,” Morris said. But as costs (such as broken pipes) swallowed up Loop’s lean profits, Murcino and Burress faced pouring earnings from their first and second restaurants, Hammerheads and Game, into their third. “They never went to the bank to fund this. They funded it.”
Burress said the decision to stop capitalizing Loop 22 was not easy, but it was logical. He said Morris’ ambition to execute a menu of high standards was admirable, but that the restaurant marketplace continues to trend toward casual dining. The yet-unnamed concept will be far less labor intensive, he added.
“Eric is very into his food, and he underestimated what labor costs can really do to you,” Burress said. “I’d love to have a Michelin-starred restaurant, too, but we don’t have a millionaire backing us.”
Morris agreed that labor was an ever-present beast at Loop 22.
“We have to pay people well to work that hard and long, and it’s expensive,” he said. “I also was constantly working 70-hour weeks, and I didn’t want to keep doing that. But that’s what our menu required, and we just weren’t making the money we needed to justify it.”
Those who follow Morris on Facebook likely aren’t surprised he’s joining Staggers, Paulin and Ray. All four men have been busy operating the Ten Tables pop-up restaurant concept for 16 straight Mondays at Loop 22. Ten Tables events see those chefs produce one-off menus for roughly 50 guests who got reservations through a Facebook lottery. The quartet (typically joined by other chefs who just come to join the fun) broke the streak on Monday after a grueling Derby Week.
“We all knew we’d need to relax after Derby,” said Morris. “But we’re ready to get back together and do it again. The sky’s the limit when we all come together.”
That happens May 11 at The Monkey Wrench, where Staggers served as chef until last year when he opened Roux. After four Ten Tables dinners at The Monkey Wrench, it moves permanently to the brand new Eggs Over Baxter (962 Baxter Ave.) site.
Morris and Burress said they’re sad their work relationship will end with Loop 22’s closure, but Burress said he couldn’t be happier for his friend.
“He put his heart and soul into this place; we love him to death,” Burress said. “Most of the past few years I’ve seen more of him than my dogs or my girlfriend. We’re all very close, and no one’s going anywhere.”
Morris likened the long-running friendship to an enjoyable prison stay.
“Eight years, man, we’re like cell mates!” he said. “They’re bringing some good people in to run their new concept, so I know it’s all going to be fine.”