August 15, 2011
Stick a fork in it: Ill-conceived Good Eats is done

dodo.jpgMy phone has been ringing off the hook (remember when we put phones on hooks?) since word got out that Good Eats closed for good on Saturday.

My reaction? What took so long? This was a wounded, flailing dodo bird that just wouldn't die.

It was a big-budget eatery and gourmet grocery on Folsom Boulevard run by Mike and Julie Teel, of the family that owns Raley's grocery stores. It was eagerly anticipated, clumsily announced (remember the Corti Brother brouhaha?), awkwardly unveiled and, finally, it operated with a mix of chaos and confusion. Holding it all together? That's right, mediocre food.

A year after it opened, Good Eats closed with little warning. A sign went up Saturday and the grocer/café made the announcement on its Facebook page. Another Good Eats in Arizona opened then abruptly closed before the launch of the Sacramento location.
What went wrong? The Teel family isn't saying much. An announcement on the Good Eats Facebook page states: Thank you, for your generous support over the last year. Unfortunately, Good Eats was forced to close its doors on August 13th for the last time. We appreciate you making Good Eats all it has been in this community. Please be understanding, we could not comment on this matter previously and there will be no further comments made at this time.

When I called Good Eats this morning, a woman answered and identified herself as the manager, Jessica Teel, who is married to Robert Teel, the son of Mike and Julie Teel.

"I cannot really give a reason except to say we were forced to close on the 13th," Jessica Teel said. She added that Good Eats had attempted to negotiate new terms with the landlord, but to no avail.

I visited Good Eats several times last fall and wrote a "First Impressions" piece that concluded, "If the newly opened, highly anticipated Good Eats keeps going in this disastrous direction, they'll be calling in the National Guard. What is Good Eats trying to be? If you have to ask -- and we do -- then it ain't working."

After an assessment of the ho-hum food, which included a rotisserie chicken much like the bird you can get at any decent grocery store, a cheese quesadilla that skimped on the cheese, and a pizza that was so bland it made Papa Murphy's seem like Spago, I wrote:

"The space that houses Good Eats is wonderful. It's a large, open building with an elegant and urban feel, thanks to the renovation of the old Andiamo. The architect was Ron Vrilakas, the man behind such stellar restaurant spaces as Zocalo, Mikuni, Sapporo Grill and the new Press Bistro.

Given the high-end look of the building, we expected Sacramento's version of Dean & Deluca or Oakville Grocery -- great wine, excellent pastries, gourmet food galore.

So we were baffled, for instance, to see the dairy case displaying Sunnyside milk -- that's a perfectly fine but typical grocery store product. The premade food cases also offered little of the gourmet variety.

I would imagine I am not the only one startled by the mixed message."

Since then, I heard from enough people to think the place was getting better, slowly but surely. But apparently it was too slow.

This morning via Face book, I asked folks to weigh in on what they thought went wrong here. Fortunately, all of my Face book friends are epicureans with genius-level IQs. The early responses ranged from bitterness tied to the "the Corti Brothers fiasco" to "They had an identity crisis. Tried to be a lot of different things but not any better than other places nearby."

mario-batali-general-mills-4-5-07.gifAnother commenter mentioned the new and thriving Eataly in New York City owned in part by celebrity chef Mario Batali. There, the massive and eclectic space has a unified theme that celebrates the food, wine and lifestyle of Italy. "I never seemed to understand what they were trying to be. You go to Eataly in Manhattan and you understand what it means to have purpose."

Another Facebook friend opined: "Wow. I can/cant believe that place is closing. Just visited for the first time about a week ago. Had heard nothing but poor food reviews. Had to see it for myself. The bar area was nice, but the food in the case looked boring at best. Would've gone back for drinks, but that alone couldn't have paid for their enormous space."

Behind the scenes, one woman who works in the food and hospitality business said Good Eats was poorly managed and never committed to showcasing locally grown produce, among other shortcomings. "There are so many of us who would love to have a family like that bankroll us and we would actually make something of it. It is a great location," this person said, asking to remain anonymous because the commenter has done business with Good Eats.

corti-store-3601.jpgFor many Sacramento foodies, the Corti Brothers issue was a lingering sore spot. The early word on Good Eats about three years ago was that it was going to take over the building in East Sacramento long occupied by Corti Brothers and that the venerable grocery store was going to close. I cannot imagine a grocery store in the entire region that attracts a constituency more serious and enthusiastic about quality food and wine than Corti Brothers. And I cannot think of a bigger first misstep than upsetting this stellar demographic. These were the kind of folks any restaurant would covet.

8c7a7b56aa3dad4319ff7b50ebacee5e.jpgWhen Good Eats finally opened (in a different location, of course), it just wasn't working and there didn't seem to be anyone in charge capable of honing the vision, the concept and the overall organization of the place. As I continued to keep my eye on it over the next several months, I began to imagine what kind of business would work there. As I mentioned, something like an Oakville Grocery might be appealing, or even a scaled-down, urban version of Corti Brothers. I also thought about a showcase restaurant like The Kitchen, which does its performance-style dinners in a relatively hidden-away spot off Howe Avenue. This locale would be much bigger, more visible and more attractive - the kind of set-up that could elevate a smart and successful restaurant to super stardom.

We'll keep on eye on what develops at this building in the weeks to come. After several recent restaurant closings, along with the closing of the former David Berkley

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