It’s been nearly a year since Glass Haus Kitchen opened its doors for business in the Downtown warehouse district as an American haute cuisine restaurant that turned high profile heads with its technical approach to local flavors. What looked like the start of a restaurant dynasty will come to an early end on Saturday, October 26, as the restaurant’s owners recently announced its impending closure.
Executive Chef Ian Boden—who had the The Washington Post raving earlier this year in a review that claimed his kitchen was “a compelling case for plugging Charlottesville into your GPS” and described a dish of foie gras with steel-cut oats as “(trust me on this) magic”—is turning in his apron and returning to his home in Staunton for personal reasons.
Owners JF Legault and Francois Bladt said they have no regrets about their year-long run, but Legault admitted that allowing a business to hinge entirely on one person’s skills was a risky move.
“In doing this, I went against the grain of everything I know,” Legault said. “Never leverage a chef as much as we have.”
Unlike many of its local competitors, which have longstanding customer bases, Glass Haus’ success has been driven by its star chef and his inspirations. Legault said the restaurant would need a complete concept overhaul if it were to function without Boden, and he and Bladt decided instead to close their doors and operate the space as an event venue.
Boden was guarded about his reasons for leaving, but he acknowledged that his departure may have forced the owners’ hands.
“That’s the difference between opening up a new place in the modern culinary scene where things tend to be chef-driven, as opposed to places that are concept-driven,” Boden said. “There’s lots of institutions in Charlottesville that can rotate out key members. But in the new restaurant scene, that’s just not something that happens regularly.”
Legault and Boden added that Charlottesville is simply too small for a restaurant like Glass Haus to be successful long term—there’s just “not enough asses for the seats.”
Boden said the type of chef-driven high-end eatery is successful in major metropolitan markets, but is tough to pull off here.
“Conceptually, it would be exactly the same,” Boden said. “Volume-wise, you’ve got a larger market. Price point is less of an issue, and people tend to eat out four to five days a week in larger markets.”
According to Legault, Glass Haus Kitchen will remain open as an events venue, and will continue to host cocktail parties, chef dinners, and local beer and wine events