Michael Schlow looks to ‘tweak’ fine dining concept
For the last 15 years, Radius has been part of a select group of white tablecloth restaurants. But as the country has shifted toward a more casual dining experience, and with his lease set to expire July 1, owner Michael Schlow decided to close the Financial District mainstay next month. “If our lease wasn’t over, we wouldn’t be leaving. I want to be clear about that,” Schlow says. He would have invested in the place, he says. “I don’t want to call it ‘re-concept it’ — but to gently tweak.” Instead, the chef behind Barrio Cantina (formerly Happy’s Bar & Kitchen), Tico, Alta Strada, and Via Matta has decided to tweak the concept elsewhere. Schlow plans to open in another location and “probably a different name, but [with] the same team.” He wouldn’t divulge prospective sites for the venture, only noting that they’re all within a 10-minute walk of Radius’s current High Street location, and that he’s in negotiations. Radius’s official last day is June 29. Schlow plans to host a series of events before that, including an alumni dinner, cooking classes, and an evening with Mario Batali.
Q. Talk about the widespread changes in fine dining.
A. You need a public that is willing to support it, and right now, for whatever reason, I love to go out to restaurants, but nine times out of 10, I’m going to go to a place that’s very casual. Where I’m going with this is, what kind of time commitment are you willing to make to your meal with your friends or your family or your date? Fine dining has the connotation of a) it’s going to be expensive, and b) you’re going to be there for a really long time. You can’t get out of your seat unless the doctor calls and the baby’s on the way. I think there is a prevailing culture right now that the guest — and I understand this completely — wants to completely be in charge of their time commitment and that is the driving force as to why I think fine dining is struggling in America. There’s a perception of: You’re going to be stuck there for a long time and it’s going to be expensive.
Q. So are you moving out of the Radius spot because business wasn’t strong?
A. When we built that restaurant 15 years ago, we knew it was a location that did not have a lot of nighttime traffic. We knew we would have to build something that would be unique and special. And I would say that obviously with any business over that course of time there’s going to be bumps along the road — this recession was not kind to any business, forget about the restaurant business — but we’ve been busy and we’ve been doing OK. What you alluded to about fine dining is a bitter discussion. There is a movement across the country right now for a more casual, more communal style of dining. We certainly enjoy that at our other restaurants and see how popular it is, but Radius is still doing well. We’re still busy at lunchtime, we still have a lot of private events, we still have plenty of dinner business, but not enough that it would warrant a substantial increase in rent. And also that goes hand-in-hand with the fact that the restaurant is quite frankly a very large space, 10,000 square feet. So we don’t need that much space, we never did. That’s always been an excessive amount of space for us and so instead what we’re looking to do is to find something that’s a little bit smaller and a little more manageable, but to keep our team intact.
Q. But to be clear, business has been steady?
A. Business has been good. This has been the best start we’ve had in a couple of years. With the exception of [Marathon] week when everybody was very, very slow, if not closed, we’ve had a very, very strong start. As I said, the bigger conversation is fine dining in America and certainly fine dining in Boston. There’s a handful of restaurants that fall into that category, and I don’t want to use the word “struggle,’’ but we’ve always had to make sure that we’re providing a product that is very special and unique.