There was a time when Abacus, a McKinney Avenue restaurant that opened 20 years ago, was a Dallas dining landmark that brought its former executive chef, Kent Rathbun, major acclaim and even a few James Beard Award nominations. In recent years, however, it's felt more like a relic, and not a particularly precious one.
"Abacus ... is facing its most difficult test yet," Observer food critic Brian Reinhart wrote in October 2017.
"Challenges are coming from every quarter. Its former celebrity chef is suing the restaurant’s owners; its neutral-beige interior feels like a time capsule from 1999; its menu, an abrupt collision between Texas steakhouse and Japanese sushi bar, is similarly dated."
After several visits, "I couldn’t help wondering how much this McKinney Avenue mainstay needs to evolve to stay relevant," Reinhart wrote.
Today, Abacus ownership announced on Facebook that the restaurant is closing June 1, when they'll retire the Abacus concept to make way for a new one.
"It’s with a heart full of gratitude and a dining room filled with memories, engagements, anniversaries, celebrations and laughter, that Abacus Jasper’s Restaurant Group will bid a fond farewell to our Abacus Restaurant on June 1," the post reads. "When one dining room closes, another opens. With this closure comes plans for a new concept that will open later this summer.
"Our decision to retire the Abacus brand is based on changing times and palates which require us to prepare for the next decades of dining. We can assure you we will continue to pursue the same attention to detail and service aspects of your dining experience that established our well earned industry reputation, and more importantly, will usher us into the future."
The Abacus story was filled with major highs, high-profile lows and a touch of the bizarre. Rathbun left the restaurant and its corresponding restaurant group in June 2016 over a business dispute with his partner William “Bill” Hyde Jr., the current owner of Abacus. Rathbun later sued Hyde over an agreement Rathbun signed in 2009 in which Rathbun gave up the rights to his name, image and likeness. That led to a lengthy legal battle in which Hyde basically sought to prevent Rathbun from using his own name and likeness. In 2017, "the trial court decided Rathbun can keep using his own name and likeness as long as he doesn’t disparage his former partner," the SE Texas Record reported. "The appellate court upheld that ruling."
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As all that was happening, Abacus continued to use Rathbun's name as its website URL and to serve several of his dishes, forever ensuring that Rathbun's shadow loomed over Abacus and its dated fusion cuisine. Rathbun, meanwhile, has since opened Imoto, a fusion sushi restaurant in Victory Park.
Now, Abacus is giving up the ghost.
"Come join us over the next week to toast Abacus one final time," Abacus' Facebook post reads. "We have a lot to celebrate."
Abacus, 4511 McKinney Ave. (Knox-Henderson)