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‘Top Chef’ contestant buys his St. Paul restaurant – and 7 more

December 4, 2018

Big things are happening for Justin Sutherland, and not only because he is competing on the new season of Top Chef that premieres Dec. 6.

The Handsome Hog chef, who also recently opened Pearl and the Thief in Stillwater, recently bought the group that owned his Lowertown St. Paul restaurant.

Sutherland now helms Eagle Street Grille, Public Kitchen Bar, Gray Duck Tavern, Fitzgeralds, Green Lantern, Ox Cart Ale House and Ox Cart Rooftop. Sutherland believes this makes him the first black chef in the Twin Cities to own a multi-restaurant group.

Progress always feels good, and just advancing diversity in all sectors of life and work in our community is very important, he said. It paves roads for those that come next.

He is partnering with Patrick Conroy, owner of the suburban Muddy Cow chain.

Sutherland and Conroy take over Madison Restaurant Group on Jan. 1. The company, which opened Handsome Hog three years ago and launched six more restaurants since then, is keeping its name.

They came to me a few months ago, Sutherland said. They were ready to leave the restaurant realm and go back to real estate. They asked Sutherland if he wanted to take over.

The answer wasnt yes right away, he said. This is a huge undertaking, obviously.

Plans for updating the restaurants are still being worked out, but Sutherland says hes not touching what already works mainly Handsome Hog and Xcel Energy Center-adjacent Eagle Street Grille. But there will definitely be a few conceptual changes, a few design changes at the restaurants that need a little bit more TLC, he said.

The real estate company, Madison Equities, will hold onto the properties and rent to Sutherland. Pearl and the Thief and the Muddy Cow restaurants arent part of the deal, but may fall under the brand going forward.

Who knows? Sutherland said. My head is still spinning while trying to wrap my arms around going from two to seven restaurants overnight.

In the meantime, Sutherland is gearing up for his season of Top Chef: Kentucky, in which he competes for a $125,000 prize. It starts on Bravo this Thursday at 8 p.m.

Handsome Hog (203 E. 6th St., St. Paul, 651-340-7710, handsomehog.com) and Pearl and the Thief (112 Main St. N., Stillwater, 651-342-0972, pearlandthief.com) are both hosting watch parties throughout the run. Sutherland wont say which place hell be.

Part of me just wants to watch it at home by myself, he said.

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