‘It’s been a wonderful run’: Crescendo closing after almost 23 years

Published 6:42 am Friday, June 30, 2023

Crescendo Exquisite Food & Fine Wines will end its run on Broadway Avenue in Albert Lea at the end of July, the owner announced this week.

The restaurant, owned and operated by Robert Tewes, has been a staple in downtown Albert Lea since May 2001 after Tewes and his wife, Patty, purchased the former hobby shop.

“With the help of friends … we remodeled the place, did our best to try to capture a timelessness about it,” he said. “We had a friend very talented with interior decorating come up with the Tuscan-colored yellow walls that make it look like it could be in Italy, or in Chicago, or in any major city.”

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His vision: Have patrons experience an unhurried event where people could gather and be fed not just physically but in their souls by serving as a community table.

“We see the food being a part of the meal, but also the conversation and the music playing in the background,” he said, referring to the grand piano in the back of the restaurant constantly playing, whether recorded or live.

His path toward becoming an owner was not a conventional one. During his time as a graduate student at the University of Chicago, he sampled the many cuisines found in the area, where he discovered a talent in being able to discern the different flavors of a dish and mentally catalog them.

“Much like as a musician would combine notes on a scale to create a piece of music, I was able to create some of those flavor memories and come up with some original dishes that really kind of worked,” he said.

But it wasn’t until he left a position at First Lutheran Church in the early ’90s and worked part-time at Grace Lutheran Church he came to a crossroads in his life.

“I found myself with a lot of free time, and so to fill that void I dreamt up this concept and brought it to life,” he said. 

Tewes and his wife, who are from Albert Lea, often heard from friends about a lack of fine dining opportunities in Albert Lea. But rather than joining in the griping, they decided to take action.

And with an opportunity to take a different path, he jumped at the chance. 

They specifically wanted to be downtown, and with the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center down the street, they saw this as an opportunity for cross-pollination with theatergoers.  

While describing the restaurant as a “blessing,” after being in operations so long and spending weekends at the restaurant, Tewes saw the toll it took on him, Patty and his whole family.

“Every weekend I’m gone,” he said. “We can’t take the weekend trips together, we can’t do this and that, because there’s the restaurant.”

No longer serving at Grace Lutheran Church, he started seriously pondering the idea of closing over the last two months, and within the last month he began thinking about the idea in more real terms.

“It’s just becoming clearer that it’s time,” he said. “People had kind of told me you would know when it’s time to retire.”

The decision was first posted on the Crescendo Dining Facebook page Monday, and Tewes said they’ve received overwhelming support in the days since.

“They’re happy for us,” he said, noting people were also sad to see the restaurant go but at the same time happy with the impact the restaurant had on Albert Lea.

Owning a restaurant also provided a learning opportunity for Tewes, and he admitted it was interesting getting to know different vendors and their staff.

He was also proud of the meaningful life moments celebrated at Crescendo, from birth announcements, wedding engagements and even families coming together again to bury a relative.

His favorite part about owning the restaurant was the people, from employees to visitors, and getting to know them.

“One of the unusual aspects of the business that most people would not be aware is just the diversity of clientele that we serve in this restaurant and have for years,” he said. “We will have people here from overseas on a semi-regular basis, not just from Albert Lea or Austin, Owatonna.

“…We’ve had people here from England and Norway and just all over the world.”

At the same time, he learned there were a lot of aspects out of his control. And that’s taught him to be flexible and adaptive.

Among the challenges he and Patty have faced included Sept. 11, 2001, the economic downtown in 2008 and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic, the latter of which forced the restaurant to close for an extended time and which continues to affect the restaurant.

Crescendo Exquisite Food & Fine Wines, closing July 29, is at 118 S. Broadway Ave. To book a reservation, visit their website, crescendodining.com to send an email or call 507-377-2425. The restaurant is open 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

After it closes, Tewes plans to spend more time with family and travel, things he hadn’t been able to do due to his commitment to the restaurant.

“It’s been a wonderful run,” he said. “We’re just very proud of what we’ve done. We’re grateful to all our employees that have been through here, raised many high school students through this place that consider their years at Crescendo part of their formative background.”

He was also appreciative of everyone who visited.