Auburn, the elegant fine dining restaurant from chef Eric Bost, has announced it will close permanently. Opened in March 2019 in the iconic former Hatfield’s/Citrus space on Melrose Avenue, the attractive modern dining room and sophisticated cooking received high marks from critics. A veteran of Guy Savoy’s restaurants in Vegas and Singapore, Bost brought a casual elegance that resonated with diners in the minimalist space. Auburn’s dynamic menu offered four, six, and nine course selections with an luxe wine list and ambitious desserts.
Instead, LA loses yet another first-rate restaurant, after Lincoln Carson announced Bon Temps would close forever in Arts District after its own acclaimed first year of operations. This morning Bost told Eater in a phone call that recent efforts to selling family-style meals and produce boxes weren’t enough to financially support the restaurant during the dining room shutdown orders. Despite January and February being some of the strongest sales months for the restaurant, Bost made the difficult decision to close because the money didn’t add up.
“We just don’t have more cash reserves to put in. We don’t have a willingness, or a possibility to invest further,” said Bost, who admits that even in good economic times a fine dining restaurant like Auburn has to live with slim margins and a precarious operation. Also, things like rent concessions and federal stimulus loans from the Paycheck Protection Program weren’t going to be enough to keep Auburn afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead, despite years of building the restaurant and months of construction delays, Bost decided it was better to end things than try and struggle with a difficult reopening period in the weeks and months ahead. Part of what made continuing to operate so difficult was Auburn’s expensive build out and construction delays. “It’s a big restaurant with lots of seats. It’s not an inexpensive restaurant. It’s a challenge at that point, but we felt like we were on a path. You gotta make up for the ground that you’re putting in front, but it was just too much,” said Bost. The burden of carrying the high start up costs, as well as the commitment Bost made to staff, many of whom left prominent jobs in order to fill key positions at Auburn, meant the business had a lot of ground to cover before it was going to be profitable.
During the mandatory dining room closures, Bost and his team pivoted to family-style dinners at $39 a person, hoping to curry favor with the neighborhood and make just enough to pay for healthcare costs for all full time employees. The system that Tock had set up was ideal for them, and sales grew every week since they initiated the family meals.
Auburn’s team even started figuring out what a half-capacity dining room and new a la carte system would look like since the previous tasting menu format likely wouldn’t succeed in an economic recession. The team also had a new take out family meal menu planned for the following week before Bost announced in an email to employees that he had made the difficult decision to close permanently.
Asked how it felt to announce the closure of his first restaurant, Bost admitted it was devastating. “I was involved with all the design, put the teams together. I know every piece of equipment, even the wood beams and the plumbing. I spent years to get this place open and it feels like it all went down overnight.” Bost credits the team he helped build as one of the reasons why Auburn was so successful in its first year. “The team here has been amazing. The team feels like the space —modern, natural, effortless. We have the best team, but I have to tell them there’s no job for them. What we built is the result of everyone’s work.”
Despite a well-known space, Bost felt like he didn’t have a strong reputation to open such an ambitious fine dining restaurant in LA. “We accomplished something that I felt was a part of the community. We had a good following. People were excited to eat here.”