'Top Chef' celebrity permanently closing High Horse restaurant in downtown Raleigh after less than a year of business

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- After less than a year of business, celebrity-chef Katsuji Tanabe is permanently closing his High Horse restaurant in downtown Raleigh. Signage is down and items have been moved out of City Market space.

Tanabe says the closure wasn't his decision, his restaurant fell victim to the lack of revenue that the coronavirus pandemic brought to many businesses.

"I did everything within my power to push my partner to reopen the place because I think we have a social responsibility to our employees," he said.

Tanabe splashed onto the Raleigh scene after competing on Top Chef and showcased culinary skills on Chopped. His food at High Horse was packed with flavor fusing Mexican, Japanese and American cuisine.

He says it's heartbreaking to close place a that had so much promise pre-pandemic.

"First, you get sad. Then you get angry, then you start questioning yourself," he said.

He's worried about other restaurant businesses struggling to bring in revenue.

"60 percent of the restaurants will not reopen after the pandemic," said Tanabe.

Some folks are cautious right now about dining out during Phase 2.

"Some people are comfortable, some people are not," said Cortez Restaurant owner Charlie Ibarro.

The Glenwood South restaurant has a spacious patio, which is a big benefit these days as many restaurants offer to have patrons sit outside. But Ibarro says many of his guests are still choosing contact-free take-out.

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Raleigh is loosening regulations to benefit small businesses recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and damages suffered from demonstrations by extending outdoor seating during Phase 2.

"We've had some guests that are so quick to come back, but we've had a lot of guests that are kind of waiting this out especially when the governor decided that he had to expand the Phase 2," said

Ibarro also has Jose and Sons, and after 12 years in the warehouse district, that place is shuttering its doors.

"It was definitely a very bitter moment to have to make that decision," said Ibarro.

He is hoping to relocate that space in the future, much like Tanabe he's looking to reinvesting in the city he now calls home.

"I have never been welcomed anywhere else as I have been welcomed in Raleigh, people are here are excited. They're interested in food, they're open to trying new food," said Tanabe.

He's using this time-off to reconnect with his family and regroup.
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