The Mint restaurant closes in downtown Raleigh

The Mint restaurant closes in downtown Raleigh April 13, 2012 

— The Mint, the white tablecloth restaurant that the city spent $1 million luring to downtown Raleigh, has closed.

The restaurant plans to reopen in July after renovating its space and adopting a new menu and theme, according to a sign posted on the door on Friday.

It marks a relatively quiet end for a restaurant that drew plenty of scrutiny during its four-plus years in existence. Some downtown Raleigh restaurateurs criticized the deal that was struck in 2006 between the Raleigh Restaurant Group, The Mint’s owner, and the city, which owns the One Exchange Plaza building on Fayetteville Street.

They said the city was subsidizing their competition by paying to install the necessary infrastructure to operate a restaurant in the building’s 6,792-square-foot ground-floor space.

City officials said they were doing what any other private landlord would do to attract a tenant. They also said they would recoup the investment made in the space over the course of The Mint’s 10-year lease.

But The Mint, which opened in early 2008 when the recession was just taking hold, struggled to find a following, particularly when the average cost of a dinner entree was pushing $30. A year after opening, the restaurant brought in two new investors and reworked the menu to offer more affordable dinner options and a $9 lunch.

A year ago, the City Council approved a rent restructuring for The Mint, reducing its monthly payments for three years and then recouping much of that money with higher rents in the later years of the lease. The restructuring reduced the overall value of the 10-year lease by $339.

The Mint is now current on its lease, Jayne Kirkpatrick, city public affairs director, said Friday.

Rick Jones, managing partner of the Raleigh Restaurant Group, did not return repeated calls seeking comment. Jones said in the past that his group spent $2 million to create The Mint’s dining atmosphere, which included a gleaming, six-ton steel bank vault door, strings of faceted crystals suspended from the ceiling and silken upholstery.

City Manager Russell Allen defended The Mint deal in an interview last week.

“That was a market rate deal, despite people’s comments or speculation otherwise,” he said. “People think we subsidized that restaurant. We did not. We made investments in that space, just as any other owner would.”

The city also was criticized for what seemed to be a desire to locate a particular kind of restaurant in the space. The Mint’s lease states that the restaurant will serve food in a “white tablecloth metropolitan style” and shall feature “low country” cuisine as a prominent part of the restaurant’s menu.

Allen said the owner chose the format for the restaurant.

“We didn’t make the investment in that kind of restaurant,” he said. “The private sector did. He’s (the owner) the one that took the risk. That’s what he thought could be successful there.”

When the city signed its deal with The Mint in 2006 downtown Raleigh had a glut of empty space. Six years later downtown has built up a thriving restaurant scene, with several new establishments set to open in the coming months. The sign on The Mint’s door gave no indication as to what type of restaurant might replace it.

Bracken: 919-829-4548

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