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This summer, Smith & Wollensky’s flagship restaurant in The Castle at Park Plaza on Arlington Street will be shuttered as it ends its 15-year tenure in, arguably, one of the Back Bay’s most high-profile spots.
The news comes hand-in-hand with the announcement that the Medford-based steakhouse chain plans to open its first non-urban location in Chef Ming Tsai’s old Blue Ginger space in Wellesley. Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group has eight venues, including one in New York City, one in London, and a second Boston location on Atlantic Wharf overlooking Fort Point Channel. The wharf restaurant opened in 2011 and remains unaffected by the changes.
“The end of our 15-year lease [at the Castle] was coming up, and we had to make a decision about whether to renew,” said Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group’s Senior Vice President of Marketing Kim Giguere-Lapine. “We looked at the costs of renovating, and the opportunity came up in Wellesley to create a suburban prototype. We asked ourselves, Does it make sense to renew the lease when the Castle venue needed a massive amount of capital to bring it up to a competitive standard?”
The Castle is a former armory, and its status as a historic listed building in part added to problematic renovation costs and commitment.
Giguere-Lapine said Smith & Wollensky’s ultimate decision to make the move to the ‘burbs was not an easy one.
“We spent 15 years as a major dining destination in a very competitive area,” she said. “Our founders negotiated that lease on a handshake and were passionate about being in that building. We’ve had an incredible following there. The antiques and the artwork make it a very special space.”
The Castle location is due to close on June 30, though there are talks about extending into July, especially if it gives employees extra time to settle into new positions at the other two Smith & Wollenskys or find new opportunities elsewhere.
“We feel like we’re being transparent with our employees and hope to find most a new spot in Wellesley or at the wharf location,” Giguere-Lapine said. “We’re doing everything we can to maintain as many as possible within the company.”
The Wellesley location is due to open on May 24 with a simplified menu.
“The menu will be 90 percent our core menu,” Giguere-Lapine said. “It will be more approachable, but still honoring our roots.”
In dining-scene terms, Smith & Wollensky is taking over a fairly notable spot in the suburbs.
“We have big shoes to fill,” Giguere-Lapine said. “But we think people are starving for a steakhouse in the Wellesley and western Newton area.”