“It just didn’t seem to be a viable business really. The concept was good, we just weren’t able to execute it,” says co-owner Kelly Gorsuch, the entrepreneur who’s also behind Immortal Beloved salon. “It just became too costly with labor and the quality of the ingredients, and unfortunately, if you can’t cut those two things down, it’s usually the end of business.”
The restaurant opened in November to a mountain of backlash over its prices. The original 13-course menu from chef Kwame Onwuachi cost $185 per person, which added up to $481 with tax, tip, and wine pairings, making it one of Washington’s priciest meals. While other high-end restaurants, like Minibar, charge even more, critics questioned whether the price was warranted from a 27-year-old Top Chef contestant in his first executive chef gig.
Just four days after opening, the Shaw Bijou received a lukewarm “First Bite” review from the Washington Post, in which critic Tom Sietsema left the restaurant craving some pizza. Meanwhile, Washingtonian critic Corby Kummer gave the place two stars, although he criticized that many dishes were “tepid” and “don’t add up to narrative flow through the meal.” National press was more generous: Forbes recently named Onwuachi among its 30 under 30 in the food and drink world, while Rolling Stone wrote that the Shaw Bijou “may be the most hotly anticipated restaurant of the decade in the District.”
Gorsuch says the backlash, which was often quite nasty, had some effect on the Shaw Bijou’s failure, “but ultimately you’re responsible for what you put out. If we would have done what people loved, it would have been a different story… I think it took too long to start listening to the guests.”
Over recent weeks, the Shaw Bijou has gradually backed down from its initial ambitions. First, it canceled plans for a private club and began welcoming walk-ins to its upstairs bar. Then, as of January 3, the restaurant switched to a seven-course menu for $95. It also abandoned its ticketed reservation system where diners purchased their meal in advance like they would for a concert or theater performance.
“Humility creeps up on you when least expected, and the opening of this restaurant has taught us just that,” Onwuachi wrote in an email statement at the time.
The chef was not immediately available to comment on the closure.
“We were kind of trying to change the message more than anything else,” Gorsuch says of the price drop. “That was difficult. We were never able to overcome that price problem from the beginning.”
Gorsuch informed his staff about the closure this afternoon, and he’s hoping to help find them new jobs elsewhere. “At the end of the day, the people matter more to me than anything else, so this was tough for me,” he says.
He’s not yet sure what he’ll do with the building, which he owns.
“I just kind of want to sit back and figure the next steps out,” Gorsuch says.