Bon Appetit gets new owner, plans final concert

Tim Sturrock

Thursday night, at the stroke of midnight, Bon Appetit, a Dinkytown music venue, will become merely a restaurant. Its owner closed the sale of the business this week, saying the decision was partially motivated by pressure from the landlord.

Samir Elkhoury, owner of Bon Appetit, said he was not pressured to sell but to not renew his entertainment license.

Elkhoury said the landlord, Shirley Peterson of Minneapolis, complained about the type of crowds the music attracted.

The owner said he hopes to buy a venue in Northeast Minneapolis, where his prospective landlord will be more accepting of his business.

He said he could have kept Bon Appetit but would rather have a good relationship with a landlord.

“I am not a person who loves to fight,” he said.

Peterson, a member of the Dinkytown Business Association, could not be reached for comment. Although criticism from the DBA has tapered in recent years, Elkhoury said, he suspects businesses in Dinkytown kept Peterson updated to the restaurant’s goings on, such as controversial fliers.

Jerry Raskin, owner of Needle Doctor, Bon Appetit’s next-door neighbor, said a few years ago complaints about people outside the restaurant were legitimate.

In the past, people sitting in front of Bon Appetit sometimes harassed passersby on the sidewalk, Raskin said. But he said if complaints still exist, they are unwarranted.

“He might have developed a reputation, but quite frankly it’s not what it was,” he said. “At one time you had rowdier bands there.”

Raskin said he has had good experiences with patrons and musicians in the last few years and doesn’t have a problem with the people who currently sit out front.

DBA member Scott Johnson said other members were surprised to hear Bon Appetit was leaving and hadn’t heard complaints about the restaurant in a few years. He also said Peterson rarely makes appearances at meetings.

A Loss for Dinkytown

Joe Holland, a member of the band “Racket Ball,” one of five playing the venue’s final show, has been trying to spend more time at Bon Appetit. But Holland said the audiences aren’t as active as they once were. Fans aren’t dancing as much. “It’s pretty difficult to have a good time when you know the place isn’t going to be the same next week,” he said.

Holland said it’s difficult to go places without being asked why Elkhoury is selling. Many of the inquirers already have their own ideas, he said.

Holland, who books shows at Bon Appetit, and others who work there have heard plenty of plans in recent weeks on how to save the venue.

Benefit shows and petitions have been suggested, but Holland said he has told the crusaders it’s not a legal or monetary problem. Elkhoury has been discreet about plans for his new venue and reasons for leaving, he said.

James Ecoff, who takes tickets at the door, said he hates to see a place like Bon Appetit go because it’s one of few venues that allows any band – despite their lack of experience – to play.

Ecoff said he wants something to remind him of the venue and will try to grab whatever he can. He said he hopes to get a large sign that reads “The Bon” but anticipates fights with co-workers over who will obtain the souvenir. If that doesn’t work out, he said he will take old fliers and posters.

The laid-back atmosphere and focus on music, and not alcohol, is what Jimmy Rogers, a bassist for Pleasure Pause, said he will miss.

“It’s not so much going to a bar to get drunk like at other venues,” he said.

Nate Johnson, a sound technician at The Dinkytowner – a bar across the street from Bon Appetit – said the end of shows there isn’t the best for Dinkytown. “The more clubs in the area keeping it alive, the better,” he said. “In a lot of ways, having Bon Appetit in there is just as important as the Loring.”

While Johnson said he never saw a show at Bon Appetit, he said it’s important for Dinkytown to provide as many reasons as possible to bring patrons into the neighborhood. He said the relaxed, youth-oriented scene brings a unique dimension to the area.

“Right now it’s ideal because none of the clubs directly compete,” he said.

Lyndsi Seymore, 19, said she won’t have anywhere to go to see shows. With only handful of 18-plus venues, she’s not sure what she will do.

Elkhoury isn’t gone yet. He said he plans on sticking around to help the new owner, Jeff Sliter, settle in. He said he has no hard feelings about his stay in Dinkytown, but will miss the area.