It changed ownership, it said goodbye to its founder and chef, and now it’s closing for good.
Tage, a favorite island restaurant among both locals and tourists, will not be reopening this season in the old Miss Lilly’s store across from the Julius E. Sprauve School.
After discovering that off season on St. John was a bit slower than he planned for, Tage chef/owner Karrl Foster realized it just wasn’t going to work out, he explained.
“I guess I just underestimated the gravity of seasonality down here,” said Foster. “I wasn’t truly financially prepared, and neither was my business partner. By the time we realized the effects of a place that has such seasons, it was kind of late and we were already feeling the pinch.”
Once Foster realized he wouldn’t be able to reopen Tage with his own resources, it was too late to raise capital without asking friends for help, he explained.
“By the time we realized it wasn’t going to work out, it was a little late for us,” said Foster. “I have plenty of friends with money who would help out, but I wouldn’t do that because it’s not fair to them.”
Foster Admits Mistakes
A few factors led Foster to believe months ago that things at Tage might not work out. The Tage chef/owner realized he may have made a mistake in purchasing the restaurant after studying numbers from the previous seasons, he explained.
“Six months or so ago, when I started to review the numbers historically and saw that it wasn’t just about the island being down the 15 to 20 percent during off season I’d heard from everyone, coupled with the fact that something else was going on that I couldn’t put my finger on, it started happening emotionally for me,” said Foster. “As I looked at the numbers a little deeper, I knew I’d done my due diligence when I bought the place, but I figured that knowing the history, we could approach it in a different way. That was one of my mistakes.”
Against his better judgement, Foster did not take over entirely as chef and owner when he purchased Tage in mid-2006. He instead managed the restaurant while allowing founder and chef Ted Robinson — who Foster describes as an “incredible chef” — to remain in the kitchen.
“It’s my idea, my passion, my dream,” said Foster. “It’s what’s inexplicably linked to what every chef buys a restaurant for — not just to be a restaurateur, but to put out his own idea and make people happy. I reluctantly decided to allow the original chef — who I think is an incredibly talented guy — to continue to put out his work, and I wanted to change the name but decided to stick with Tage because it had credibility and history.”
The restaurant didn’t go where either Foster or Robinson expected it to go, Foster added. During the off season when Tage was closed, Foster began to formulate his idea to open a new restaurant.
“The concept with the new name attached to it was more a French/Spanish/Italian/Mediterranean focus, and we’d scale the wine list down a bit but still have some pretty amazing wines,” he said. “The other goal was to make it more accessible, because we’d have so many people stop us and say, ‘I’d like to eat at your restaurant but I just can’t afford it.’ That’s not what we wanted to be.”
Foster wanted patrons to be able to enjoy his restaurant several times a week, but this idea would have been hard to achieve due to a monthly $3,000 WAPA bill and more than $5,000 in rent, he explained. The Tage chef/owner didn’t want to compromise the quality of the restaurant’s food just to bring the prices down.
“When I started to see that we couldn’t change anything with our WAPA bill, we tried to tighten the bootstraps in other places,” said Foster. “We weren’t going to cut back when it came to food, and we tried lots of different things but it just didn’t work. By the time I realized that it was time to inject a whole new thought into the place, perhaps it was too late to do anything with it.”
Foster looks back fondly on his experience at Tage, where he even got the opportunity to cook for celebrities visiting the island.
“It was an amazing opportunity to participate in that history,” said Foster. “We were even asked to come out privately and do a dinner for Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.”
“They said they couldn’t come out, but they really liked the menu and asked if I would come over and do their dinner, so I did it personally; it was amazing,” he added.
Other customers credited Tage with helping them make deals at business dinners, Foster added.
One thing Foster said he will always remember from his time as chef/owner of Tage is the staff.
“I would really like to mention the fact that the staff I had there was absolutely the most talented staff that I’ve ever, ever worked with,” said Foster. “I would gladly, under any circumstances, work with any one of them again, and I mean it. Par Manhattan, London, France, L.A., they’re the best.”
Pursuing Other Avenues
Although the restaurateur is sad that an era is coming to an end, he realizes he now has the opportunity to pursue many different avenues, he explained.
“It’s really sad, but I believe that sometimes you have to let go when you just don’t want to,” said Foster. “I also believe that one door closes and another one opens.”
While Foster is unsure of his next step, he knows he wants to continue to use his skills as a chef, he explained.
“It’s in my blood,” he said. “I’m a chef and I love this business.”
The former Tage chef/owner may do in-villa catering, or he may go back to Manhattan.
“I want to make the right movement,” he said.
The name “Tage” will be retired, explained Foster, who did not elaborate on whether the business will be put up for sale.