Cantina 1910 owners blame labor costs, property taxes for closure
While owners of an ambitious Mexican concept restaurant, Cantina 1910, are blaming rising labor costs and property taxes, a popular restaurant review website says there also were problems with the establishment's Andersonville neighbors, who never really took to the eartery.
Andersonville didn't take immediately to Cantina 1910, Ashok Selvam, senior editor at Eater Chicago, wrote in a story published on the website of the self-proclaimed go-to resource for food, drink, and restaurant obsessives in the city. "Andersonville is a unique community that doesn’t always embrace culinary gambles, and many took to Yelp to complain about opening chef Diana Davila’s menu, portions and prices," Selvam wrote. "While some of the critiques had merit, some also bordered on silly, such as questioning why the restaurant’s drink list lacked a margarita."
Selvam's article also quoted Michael Roper, owner of Andersonville's Hopleaf, who apparently took to Facebook to share his own views of why Cantina 1910 didn't make it. "While they may have had other issues that may have doomed them, the fact is that our neighborhood and Chicago at large is ‘over-restauranted’," Roper was quoted in Selvam's article. "The population of Chicago is not growing. People who live here are not making more money. People can only eat out so often. However, we are in the midst of a restaurant and bar opening binge."
Selvam's article also shared a longer version than most news outlets have published of the announcement by Cantina 1910 owners Mark Robertson and Mike Sullivan explaining why they had to shutter the Mexican concept restaurant. The two began their statement by thanking those who had come to the restaurant over the past year and that, though they had theirs ups and downs, Cantina 1910's team remained fully committed to serving sustainable, local ingredients through modern culinary techniques.
"It is with heavy hearts that we announce the closing of Cantina 1910 and Café 1910 effective immediately," continued the statement released earlier this week. "Despite this decision, we are extremely proud of the culinary experience we were able to deliver to those who dined with us and express our sincerest gratitude to Executive Chef Scott Shulman and Executive Pastry Chef Andrew Pingul and their teams for their tireless dedication to our mission. Unfortunately the rapidly changing labor market for the hospitality industry has resulted in immediate, substantial increases in payroll expenses that we could not absorb through price increases."
The statement then squarely blamed economic problems for the eatery's demise. "In the last two years, we have seen a 27 percent increase in the base minimum wage, a 60 percent increase in kitchen wages, and a national shortage of skilled culinary workers," the statement said. "As we look down the road, we are facing a December 1 change in federal labor regulations that will nearly double required salaries for managers to qualify as exempt, a 2017 mandatory sick leave requirement and another minimum wage increase. Coupled with increasing Chicago and Cook County taxes and fees that disproportionately impact commercial properties and businesses, we are operating in an environment in which we do not see a path forward."
Raising prices in Chicago's competitive restaurant market wasn't an option. "Thank you again to all who supported us this past year," the statement concluded.
Robertson and Sullivan also own Crew Bar & Grill and The SoFo Tap. There have been no announcements about closing those establishments.
However, Michael Gebert, writing for Fooditor, said the market, economic and politic fources described in the Cantina 1910 closing statement are very real.
"The irony is that many people were dismissing Cantina 1910’s claims on the same day that a story about the adverse effect taxes can have on entertainment businesses was all over local media - and nobody was disputing that Cook County denying rock and roll venues an exemption from amusement taxes enjoyed by fine arts venues could threaten the existence of those businesses," Gebert wrote. "I believe those music venues, and I believe Cantina 1910 when they looked at their trendlines and didn’t see how they could make it based on a realistic assessment of their 10-month-old restaurant."