This past weekend, Observer food critic Brian Reinhart went out to Deep Ellum to grab dinner at On the Lamb, the restaurant we recently selected as the best new Dallas restaurant of 2016. At 6:25 p.m. on Saturday night, just as diners should have been filing in for cocktails and dinner, I got a text from Brian: "Sooooo just walked up to On the Lamb and closed. No signage, no website or FB update explaining. There are still place settings, but ..." On Sunday, when On the Lamb was again supposed to be open, I sent Brian back. "On the Lamb is lifeless again," he texted Sunday evening, "broken beer bottles in the doorway."
Just to test the waters, I made a reservation for that night using Open Table. The reservation was accepted and "confirmed" via email, but the restaurant never opened that night. I reached out to On the Lamb via Facebook and email. Eventually I got a response from management: "We had an oven fire that required some repairs. We will be open this week (Wednesday for sure, as we want to make sure everything is working properly) Please ... show this message to the server and enjoy 15 percent off your meal. Thank you so much for your support and again I apologize."
I found it strange that On the Lamb wouldn't post to Facebook or even put a sign on their door alerting potential diners that they were out of luck because of an oven fire. Brian surely wasn't the only diner who went to Deep Ellum expressly to eat at the restaurant, only to find it empty.
Yesterday, we learned what may be the real reason why the restaurant briefly closed: Chef Ross Demers left On the Lamb after dinner service on Friday, D Magazine reports. "... Demers says his decision came as a result of pressures that seem to be creating fissures of late," Eve Hill-Agnus writes. "Like a number of other chefs currently, Demers felt the pinch of an awkward yoking: a chef’s vision, diners’ preferences, a neighborhood’s habits, and investors’ concerns forming an awkward fit."
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After reading that news, it seems unlikely that On the Lamb's closure had anything to do with an oven fire — especially considering that the restaurant has stayed completely mum on social media (save for the creation of a New Year's Eve event posted on Dec. 13, which was deleted after this story went live). It is possible that both unfortunate events took place in one weekend, and we're waiting for the Dallas Fire Department to respond to our inquiries about potential service calls to that location last weekend. We reached out to restaurant management, inquiring whether Demers' exit was the real reason behind the temporary closure, and are awaiting a response. Our emails to the restaurant frequently bounce back.
The last few months have been hard on the Dallas dining industry, and if Demers' exit sounds familiar, that's because it's not the first time we've heard such concerns this year — Misti Norris departed Small Brewpub after ownership wanted to simplify the menu in an effort to bring in more customers. Deep Ellum is still mourning the loss of Luscher's Red Hots, which closed last week.
A few months ago, we posed the question: Are there just too many restaurants in Dallas? After such a spate of bad news, it's hard not to wonder. Hill-Agnus summed it up well in her piece about Demers leaving On the Lamb:
In our current dining scene, diners are hard to read and investors are scared. Dallas seems to want the novelty of a chef’s voice and the excitement of quality and adventure, but the service pool is small, chefs clamor to find spots, and once in them, have a hard time convincing diners to get on board with their food. Restaurant owners fear the drop-off, and menus can slide to the mid-ground as they scramble to read the scene and adjust according to profit projections. A recent spate of shifts has felt like a spasm, with places closing and some opening seeming to make no sense. Rarely do I hear talk of a ten-year plan.