Grace, a Chicago restaurant considered to be one of America’s best places to dine, closed abruptly on Wednesday after the chef and the general manager announced they were no longer working there.
The chef, Curtis Duffy, and Michael Muser, the general manager, who also ran the wine program, had been in a monthslong conflict with Michael Olszewski, the wealthy Chicago real estate investor who owns the restaurant.
Under the guidance of Mr. Duffy and Mr. Muser, Grace became one of only 14 restaurants in the United States to be awarded three Michelin stars, and was one of the jewels in a city whose culinary star has been on the rise.
“This is going to shake the restaurant community to the core,” said Carrie Nahabedian, the chef who runs Naha, a Chicago restaurant that also has a Michelin star, and is close to the two men.
Mr. Duffy and Mr. Muser said in a statement to The New York Times that “it became evident that our evolving goals and aspirations were no longer aligned with the restaurant and its future, making this change necessary. As this chapter ends, another begins. We plan to spend quality time with our families as we develop our next project.”
They would not discuss the reasons for their departure in any more detail. But Ms. Nahabedian and Kevin Pang, a former reporter for The Chicago Tribune who was the co-director of “For Grace,” a 2015 documentary about the restaurant, said the men left after a contract dispute with Mr. Olszewski, who provided more than $2.5 million to open Grace in 2012.
Mr. Duffy and Mr. Muser had explored the possibility of a purchase that would give them complete financial and creative control of Grace, their spokeswoman said. But a new investor pulled out and the transaction did not happen.
Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Olszewski said Wednesday night that there had been other problems with the two men. Mr. Duffy had quit in May, but returned to the restaurant in September. Although Mr. Muser announced his departure on Wednesday, he confirmed through a spokeswoman that he had actually been fired on Dec. 1. Mr. Duffy’s last day at the restaurant was Dec. 18.
After news that the men had left the restaurant was published in The New York Times on Wednesday, some of the roughly 40 staff members who worked there arrived to discover that they no longer had jobs. Diners with reservations began receiving calls telling them that the restaurant had been closed permanently.
Later in the evening, Mr. Olszewski issued this statement: “Grace had an incredible run and everyone who had a role in it, from the front of the house and kitchen staff to Curtis and myself, should hold their heads up high, but that run has come to an end. This space will live to see another day with yet another great restaurant headed by a new team that will make Chicago and the restaurant community proud.”
Mr. Duffy dreamed up Grace as he worked his way through Chicago’s top kitchens, including Charlie Trotter’s and Alinea, the only other Chicago restaurant with three Michelin stars. Alinea’s tasting menu, like Grace’s, tops $200 a person.
Grace, which started booking tables two months in advance, was a modernistic, elegant counterpoint to the technical prowess and whimsical approach at Alinea, whose chef, Grant Achatz, was a mentor to Mr. Duffy.
The harried, pressure-filled days preceding Grace’s opening in 2012 in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago were examined in “For Grace,” which also dug deep into the personal life of Mr. Duffy, whose childhood in a central Ohio working-class family was punctuated by domestic violence. His father shot his mother and then himself in a 1994 murder-suicide.
Mr. Duffy found solace in a junior high school home-economics class, and his teacher remains a friend and mentor.
That the two men would walk away when the restaurant, by all accounts, was at its height would be a shock to the city’s restaurant community akin to the unexpected death of the chef Charlie Trotter in 2013, Mr. Pang said.
News of the closing spread quickly on Chicago social media Wednesday night.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,” Samantha Bomkamp, who writes about the restaurant business for The Chicago Tribune, wrote in a Twitter message.
Paul Leddy, who works for a Chicago wine and spirits distributor, wrote on Twitter: “Wow … just wow. This is huge hit to Chicago dining scene.”
Mr. Duffy is working with a legal team to determine where and when he might be able to open another restaurant, said Janet Isabelli, his spokeswoman. But nothing will likely be what Grace was to him.
As he told Mr. Pang in a 2013 profile in The Tribune, he found grace from a difficult childhood through cooking. The word meant so much to him, it became the name of one of his daughters and his restaurant.
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