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Frederik de Pue abruptly closes Menu MBK on Saturday

Less than a year after he transformed his struggling Penn Quarter seafood restaurant into an ambitious market and bistro called Menu MBK, Frederik de Pue closed the operation on Saturday, apparently at the demand of his partners who were looking for a higher return on investment.

The abrupt closing will have no effect on Table, de Pue's refined, neighborhood restaurant in Shaw, nor his 42° Catering company in Rockville, both of which will remain open.

"For me, it's a sour feeling," the Belgium-born chef said Sunday about Menu's quick demise. "I gave it everything."

Menu MBK — named for its multi-format concept of market, bistro and kitchen — was supposed to be de Pue's solution to the under-performing Azur, his seafood restaurant that closed after six months in the same space. Menu's revenues continued to grow each month, the chef said, but not fast enough to satisfy his investors, who also own the building leased to de Pue. The investors will apparently find a new, presumably more profitable tenant or sell the building.

In early September, de Pue hired Dave Hansen, a veteran restaurant rehabilitator, to manage operations and inject new ideas into Menu. Hansen said he accepted the position because he wanted a creative outlet, helping to grow de Pue's portfolio of restaurants. Hansen had grown tired of playing the heavy, the hired gun who goes into a restaurant group and closes a property. Terminating employees has taken a toll on him, he said.

But on Saturday at the end of service, Hansen found himself back in that familiar position: He rounded up Menu's 40-plus employees and told them the restaurant was closed for good.  Some staffers will be absorbed into de Pue's other projects, Hansen said.

Both de Pue and Hansen have theories on why Menu MBK didn't measure up to expectations. The chef said the massive, 6,000-square-foot building simply requires more staff than other restaurants, which in turn requires more diners every night. Hansen thought the problem could be traced to the design of the building. Many locals thought Menu MBK was a market only.

"You could poll everyone on Eighth Street," Hansen said, "and most would not know there was a restaurant above" the market.

If there's a silver lining in the storm cloud over de Pue's head, it's that Menu's closing will free him up to return full-time to the Table kitchen.

"That's really where I have fun," the chef said. "I just want to do what I actually love doing, which is cooking."