Mistral — the progressive, critically acclaimed restaurant that opened a branch at King of Prussia Mall in March 2017 — closed over the weekend.
“There’s not much to say,” co-owner Stephen Distler said Sunday, calling the time "a painful experience. ... We put up a great restaurant. We just weren’t able to turn the numbers.”
Distler and chef Scott Anderson raised eyebrows in 2016 when word spread about the award-winning restaurant’s deal for King of Prussia, typically a haven for familiar retail and restaurant brands (e.g. chains). Mistral had secured a location directly beneath Grand Lux Cafe, a slightly more upscale brand from Cheesecake Factory, which also has a location in the mall.
King of Prussia "wasn’t immediately obvious to us,” Distler said in a 2016 interview. He said mall operator Simon Property Group had been looking for James Beard- or Michelin-quality chef-operators as it sought to elevate its cachet.
“Not surprisingly, we had questions about going into a mall environment, but we were very well educated by the Simon people,” Distler said in the interview. What particularly sold them, both men said, was the corner spot, which has a strong outdoor exposure at an entrance between Neiman Marcus and Lord & Taylor. It also was near the mall’s newly revived restaurant area called Savor.
On Sunday, Distler said the food was “more complicated and complex” than mall customers were accustomed to. They tried simplifying, but “the die was cast,” Distler said, crediting Simon for working with the partners on “constructive ideas” when sales were weaker than expected.
Mistral’s customers, he said, did not feel comfortable going to the mall for the Mistral experience. “I am confident that if we were two miles away, we’d be selling out every night,” he said. Anderson did not immediately return a text message seeking comment.
Given that Mistral was released from its lease late in the year amid the typically lucrative fourth quarter, it is likely that another restaurant tenant has been signed.
Mistral, named after the stiff Mediterranean wind that clears the air and freshens weather, opened in Princeton in 2013 as a BYOB. In 2015, Elements moved atop Mistral and both added a liquor license.
Earlier this year, Anderson, Distler, and longtime manager Fia Berisha opened Aether, a seafood-focused restaurant, in Fishtown. It also has been critically praised. Berisha left the company over the summer.
Meanwhile, independent restaurants have been few and far between in King of Prussia, despite a massive influx of establishments tied not only to the mall’s expansion but to the 2016 opening of King of Prussia Town Center nearby.
“Wads of disposable suburban income have not proved a reliable prelude to a sophisticated dining scene,” Inquirer critic Craig LaBan wrote in his 2017 Mistral review.
LaBan said he believed that Mistral might be offering “an ideal template for the diverse needs of a mall community, with multiple small plates, snacks, and sandwiches for quick-bite visits to complement the option of more involved larger plates, and at relatively fair prices. ... For $7, not much more than an Auntie Anne’s pretzel combo, you can get a plate of grilled sourdough with honeyed ricotta and pickled ramps.”