Bon App Selfies, Ann Kim queen, Chang 100ish, The d'Or six, and more...

Family Meal - Friday, September 13th, 2019

Hello Friday,

It’s both Friday the 13th and the Mid-Autumn Festival! If you’re feeling superstitious, I’ll eat your mooncakes.

A media heavy Family Meal today, let’s get to it…

The Media – Lots of moving and shaking this week. A rundown:

- The NYT hired J. Kenji López-Alt as a monthly columnist on the food desk. Big get! NB: Presumably, that means he’ll be working alongside former Tasty producer Scott Loitsch. When Sam Sifton announced Loitsch’s hiring last year, Kenji told Sifton: “You hired a person who was a leader at a company that made a policy of stealing content from other people and repackaging it. I am seriously shocked and disappointed by this move from the NYT Food.”

- At the Washington Post, Emily Heil is moving over to WaPo Food, where she says she’ll report on “national food news and trends.” Off to the races already, as you’ll see below.

- Texas Monthly got a lot of outside press this week for this announcement: “As of September 18, Texas Monthly will have a taco editor on staff. José R. Ralat, a Dallas-based writer, is joining us to cover all things taco, from reviews and profiles to trends and Tex-Mex traditions.”  If you want in his head a little, Helen Rosner interviewed him for the New Yorker, where he admits “Taco Editor” is a bit of a stunt title (he’ll cover more than tacos).

And a quick shoutout to the SF Chronicle for the new layout of their food homepage. Big improvement!

Congrats, all!

The Critics – Food writer Adam Roberts has a new(ish) podcast called Lunch Therapy, and this week’s guest was the LAT’s Bill Addison. It’s well worth a listen especially for LA folks who want to get to know their critic better (work life and love life!), but I’ll note two avoid-these-mistakes minute markers here: First, if I were a big, fancy, DTLA restaurant with “a beautiful atrium,” I’d tune in around 17:30, and have my host / bar staff in earshot (spoiler: he was ignored there recently). And second, tune in around 58:40 where he describes his displeasure with Alameda Supper Club for sending a comp course to the table: “I don’t like getting free food… I was pissed.”

The Lists – Bon Appétit came out with their long list of “50 Nominees for America’s Best New Restaurants 2019” on Tuesday, and almost immediately people like GrubStreet’s Chris Crowley called them out on Twitter: “Bon Appétit editor-at-large Andrew Knowlton's restaurant is on Bon Appétit's 50 best new restaurants, a list he was intimately involved with until this year… This shit is insulting to readers and the people who work and toil away in this industry.” The Post & Courier’s Hanna Raskin, speaking as president of the Association of Food Journalists, then called the list “tainted” in a write-up by WaPo’s new food writer Emily Heil. And on a lighter, more nostalgic note, as part of the Hot 10 rollout, Dallas native Hilary Cadigan named Dallas Bon Appétit’s “2019 Restaurant City of the Year” yesterday. Alright alright.

The Profile Treatment – The NYT’s Brett Anderson profiled Ann Kim, full of deserved confidence and modern angst in Minneapolis as she builds out her next location, Sook & Mimi. “Ms. Kim is also wary of any hint of cultural appropriation — a charge often leveled these days at chefs who work in cuisines they weren’t born into… [She] is at pains to frame her efforts to master new cuisines — she is trying to learn how to hand-grind nixtamalized corn, and will travel to Spain this month to explore how churros are made — as an exercise in respect, not acquisition. ‘I am not saying I’m the queen of tortillas,’ she said. ‘Let’s make that very clear.’”

Got it. Pull quote: “I’m the queen of tortillas” – Ann Kim.

The Suits – Headline in the SF Chronicle: “Judge calls for retrial in French Laundry pregnancy discrimination case.” Details (and recap if you need it) via Janelle Bitker: “‘It is obvious to the court that plaintiff met her burden of proving it was more likely than not that she was subjected to employment discrimination on account of her pregnancy,’ [the judge] wrote in the court order… The French Laundry plans to appeal.”

The Milestone – Love this caveat from Caleb Pershan in his Eater article about how Belinda Leong baked Cecilia Chang a big cake for her 100th birthday: “In 2018, Leong interviewed Chiang about her life for a feature story on Eater. At the time, Chiang was a young 98 years old — so by that math…”

The d’Or – On Tuesday, three teams were announced as finalists in the competition to represent Team USA at the next Bocuse d’Or in 2021. In ordered head chef and commis pairs, they are: Nyesha Arrington (LA) and Michael Sansom (Yountville); Jeffery Hayashi (Honolulu) and William Barrerra (Honolulu); and Scott Muns (D.C.) and Yuta Umeki (NYC). Good luck, all!

And last but not least – If you, like millions, have been lulled into pastoral peace via videos of China’s Li Ziqi making things from scratch (mostly food, but everything from “a simple home cooked breakfast” to bamboo furniture), you will be happy to learn that the normally silent Li has a voice, and was recently interviewed by the South China Morning Post’s Goldthread team. That video posted today. I have questions. For instance, all we learn of her working life before her video career is: “When she turned 14, Li went to work in the city. In 2012, she decided to return to the countryside.” Yadda yadda yadda, multi-million subscriber food video star. Cool.

And that’s it for today. Thanks much to everyone who sent Beirut tips! I’ll be there Monday to Thursday, so if Tuesday’s Family Meal is late, please blame… Beirut.

I’ll see you here sometime around then.

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or a big cake for my 17th birthday to andrew@thisfamilymeal.com. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, please chip in here. If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!

Cohen and Foster and Nakano opine, a Post & Beam profile, Google hacks, and more...

Family Meal - Tuesday, September 10th, 2019

Hello Tuesday,

Quick note to new subscribers this week: If you signed up because of my recent piece on Gaggan, welcome! You are joining thousands of industry types who start every Tuesday and Friday by opening Family Meal and wondering who the hell I think I am.

I’m Andrew, and when this little roundup of (mostly U.S.) news for and about the restaurant industry is good, it’s because I’m a master content curator with one of the sharpest minds online today. When it’s mediocre, it’s because all my friends in food media are lazy, navel-gazing hacks.

I don’t make the rules (but will aggregate them for spare change).

Let’s get to it…

The Pay-Per-Click – The New Food Economy’s H. Claire Brown isn’t the first to call out Google for its latest not-so-upfront restaurant ordering “growth hack” (here’s Street Fight calling it “reprehensible” last month for example), but her piece from Friday is maybe the most thorough takedown so far: “Earlier this summer, Google introduced a prominent blue ‘Order Online’ button on Search and Maps results for many restaurants. The button allows users to order delivery in just a few motions: Click the button, select your meal from a menu on the next screen, and receive your food in half an hour or so… There’s just one problem: To launch this service, Google has partnered with major delivery companies like DoorDash, Postmates, and ChowNow. That means the big blue button bypasses restaurants’ own online ordering systems, automatically generating a hefty commission for Google’s business partners. In some cases, the button links to delivery platforms that don’t even have a contract with the restaurant.”

P.S. – If you’re in need of a little delivery wars schadenfreude, Reuters reported yesterday that UberEats “will terminate its service in South Korea… facing intense competition in the world's No.4 online food delivery market.” Bet that’s a hefty little write off…

Tell PR – Chef op-eds: So hot right now. A quick rundown of the past week’s first person pieces:

In NYC, Dirt Candy’s Amanda Cohen is on Eater talking about a “necessary shift” to higher wages: “Because I’m a woman, and therefore prone to hysteria and unable to understand logic, economics, or how to run a business, I’m allowed to say irrational things like: The minimum wage increase isn’t the sole cause of our problems. It’s not even the main cause.”

In SF, Jay Foster of the short-lived Isla Vida, and now downsized Farmerbrown, is on Bon Appétit discussing how “Running Restaurants in San Francisco Made Me Rethink Everything I Thought I Knew About Success…. We were several weeks into Isla Vida’s opening when we knew we’d have to close Farmerbrown…. We were a $3 million company at the time, but even that wasn’t enough to survive in San Francisco.… Looking back to when I first started out in the restaurant industry, I had defined success as becoming established, having your restaurants, and being a pillar in your community. Now, success merely means surviving.”

And in Food & Wine, “Richie Nakano talks with fellow chefs about how they are coping with exhaustion, and if it's still worth it.” With a focus on working parents and cameos from tired people like Sarah Rich, Ryan Lachaine, Gregory Gourdet, and Philip Speer.

That Tech $$$ – Per Roland Li in the SF Chronicle, “Rooftop dining is coming to Salesforce Park above the Transbay transit center in downtown San Francisco. JSSK Group leased the dining and lounge space and will combine Californian cooking with Japanese influences… Chef Shotaro ‘Sho’ Kamio, who owns the acclaimed Berkeley restaurant Iyasare, and his partner, Josh Sigel, are behind the new restaurant. It doesn’t have a name or opening date, but more details will come out early next year.”

That Hotel $$$ – In NYC, “Reynard, the restaurant that opened in 2012 at the Wythe Hotel, is no more. [Sunday’s] brunch service was its last. Next month, the renovated space will open as Le Crocodile, a French brasserie run by Aidan O’Neal and Jake Leiber, co-chef-owners of Greenpoint’s Chez Ma Tante, in partnership with restaurateur Jon Neidich, whose Golden Age Hospitality group took over the hotel’s food and beverage operations in February.” Details via Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld in Grubstreet. (Love that headline photo — courtesy of Le Crocodile — of the team “on a water break in Paris.” Very approachable!)

The Profile Treatment – This Amy Scattergood piece in the LA Times is ostensibly about “how Post & Beam, the successful black-owned South L.A. restaurant, stayed in local hands,” but it’s just as much a profile of restaurateur Brad Johnson, with starring roles from chefs John Cleveland and Govind Armstrong. The CV section, for the unfamiliar: “Johnson’s resume is a long one, spanning 30 years as a restaurateur, first in New York and then in Los Angeles. That resume includes running the Roxbury (the setting of “Night at the Roxbury”); years with Georgia (notable partners Denzel Washington, Norm Nixon — whom Johnson met while playing basketball at UMass — and Debbie Allen), site, Johnson notes with heavy irony, of the O.J. Simpson defense team post-verdict party); BLT Steak with chef Laurent Tourondel; and Willie Jane, the Venice restaurant Johnson ran with Armstrong that closed in 2016.”

For Design Fans – DeZeen announced their 2019 awards shortlist last week, with (on the F&B side of things) links to old photo spreads for the very millennial pink Humble Pizza in London, the big log ‘n poured concrete Radhaus in SF,  a café in Mumbai made of recycled cardboard, all the arches and curves at Bar Lotus in Shanghai, and this “Antwerp cathedral turned into modern gothic café.” I need some help understanding the allure of the wood box vibe of that last one. Looks more like a temporary festival pop-up structure than a permanent bar. Then again, where better to ponder the impermanence of things than an old Belgian church slinging pricey cappuccinos to hipsters (read: heathens)?

And Last and least – Copywriting is hard, and I would certainly not want my rough draft notebooks getting passed around by peers, so it is with a heart full of love and a head full of bad ideas that I say to the very fancy restaurant fund that left the tagline “Investing in the Aristocracy of Craft” in their website source code, a word of advice: Take a step back. Invest in the Meritocracy of Edits.

And that’s it for today.

I’ll see you here Friday for next Family Meal.

Oh yeah, and there’s a better than average chance I’ll be in Beirut from Monday to Thursday next week. Never been, so if you’ve got tips for stories I should write, people I should meet (you?), things I should do, or places I should eat and/or drink, please let me know at andrew@thisfamilymeal.com, or just reply to this. Thanks!

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or cathedral cappuccinos to andrew@thisfamilymeal.com. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, please chip in here. If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!

Gaggan freed, Walla Walla Phylloxera, Media ethics, and more...

Family Meal - Friday, September 6th, 2019

Hello Friday,

Let’s get to it…

Gaggan Freed – Update: My story on the final days leading up to the sudden closure of Gaggan in Bangkok is out from behind the paywall. Excerpt: “While negotiations went back and forth, [chef Gaggan Anand] went public with his resignation in Singapore’s Straights Times, citing ‘major differences’ with his investors, but adding, ‘I'm planning to buy over the other shares and if I succeed, I'll still run the restaurant. Otherwise, I may open a new restaurant.’ … Gaggan went on vacation. The partners tried a new approach. They installed security cameras throughout the restaurant, called an all-staff (minus one) meeting, and told the team they intended to keep Gaggan open without its namesake chef until at least June 2020, if not longer. Every employee who stayed would be offered four months salary as bonus, to be vested in two chunks over the next year. According to Gaggan, some key staff were offered six to eight month bonuses. The team had until 5PM on July 16th, to decide.” (Spoiler: Didn’t work.)

The Delivery Lobby – “Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other gig-work companies may go directly to California voters to combat AB5, a proposed law that could turn their drivers into employees — and they already have a $90 million war chest. The companies are gearing up to sponsor a ballot initiative in November 2020 that would allow them to provide drivers with some benefits and earning guarantees while keeping them as independent contractors. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash each put $30 million into a fund for the initiative Thursday. California labor leaders, who back AB5, said they would go all out to defeat ‘this cynical measure,’ decrying it as ‘the biggest anti-worker campaign in decades.’” Details via Carolyn Said in the SF Chronicle, where her colleague Dustin Gardiner reports the governor has thrown his weight behind AB5, and if it “passes final votes in the state Senate and Assembly, it could be on [Governor] Newsom’s desk before the Legislature adjourns for the year on Sept. 13.”

Hard to say exactly what happens with these platforms (and their fees) if this bill goes into effect, but if it survives legal challenges… your state next?

The Last Call – In other CA legislative news, per Eater SF’s Caleb Pershan: “In his ongoing quest to let bars in CA cities stay open past 2 a.m., State Senator Scott Wiener has compromised on a new possible bedtime: 3 a.m., rather than a previously proposed 4 a.m…. With a new governor in charge — nightlife industry veteran Gavin Newsom, who once co-owned Marina institution the Balboa Cafe — the odds could be in Wiener’s favor.”

For the Somm – The view from Walla Walla, Washington, via Oregon Live’s Michael Alberty: “The conventional wisdom among many winemakers in Walla Walla was that their winters were too cold and the soils too sandy for phylloxera to gain a significant foothold. Billo Naravane, the co-owner of Rasa Vineyards in Walla Walla, punctured that sense of invulnerability with a social media post on Aug. 26: ‘Phylloxera has hit several vineyards in Walla Walla, and I am quite certain that other (American Viticultural Areas) will be affected soon if they aren't already. I understand people's reluctance to talk about the issue, but it was bound to happen at some point. Burying one's head in the sand is not going to help.’”

For Design Fans – Haven’t had time to reach out to confirm, but what looks like fabric covering the rafters and shading some lighting in this Alex Staniloff photospread of Llama San in Eater NY appears to be a brilliant way to blend some sound baffling into an otherwise relatively hard and smooth design? (Oh, and the way those stools line up on the foot rest in the headline photo… A very small thing, but be still my flush-and-level loving heart.)

And last but not least: The Ethics – Something I’ve been thinking about: Even as some food journalism has gotten “more serious” lately (you know what I mean), editors and outlets are literally getting into business with the restaurants they write about, and it seems weird not to talk about that. The New York Times is promoting an inaugural NYT Food Festival in October, with a lineup “All handpicked by Times editors” and the Food desk of the Times. Eater is hosting paid events with its “Young Gun” chefs throughout the year. For a while during the re-launch of the LA Times food section, (as far as I recall) almost all the ads were for LA Times Taste.

This is not new, but deserves a discussion of ethics that I haven’t seen yet. How are these outlets maintaining impartiality when the wall between revenue and journalism has apparently disappeared? What consideration is given to the power dynamics between restaurants and the media when contracts are signed and percentages are negotiated?

Maybe this is all on par with the usual live interviews and panel discussions, but feels like it requires a little deeper thought when a journalist picks a business, people go to that business, and the journalist’s employer makes money. And re: influence on coverage, in the case of the NYT festival, a release on the PR page says: “The Festival will also be supported by robust New York Times editorial content in the weeks leading up to the October celebration.” (Selena Meyer voice: “Robust!”)

Talk amongst yourselves? Send me your thoughts!

And that’s it for today.

I’ll see you here Tuesday for next Family Meal.

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or a $90M war chest to andrew@thisfamilymeal.com. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, please chip in here. If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!

Gaggan's final days, Fall previews galore, The somm scandal revisited, and more...

Family Meal - Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

Hello Wednesday,

Apologies for the postponement yesterday. Please blame Labor Day weekend, one of several annual holiday stretches when much of American food media pivots to home cooking and publishes almost no restaurant stories.

Bah humbug.

Let’s get to it…

Gaggan’s Final Days, According to Gaggan – By total coincidence, my trip to Bangkok the weekend before last overlapped with Gaggan shutting its doors for good. I reached out to the chef for an interview, and he wound up driving me to the airport Monday morning, casually unwinding his side of the story on the record. I’m making that story available now for paid Family Meal subscribers. Everyone else will have access starting Friday, when I’ll post it here for free.

The Tease: Almost exactly one year before he was scheduled to close his restaurant for good, chef Gaggan Anand and 65 of his staff abruptly resigned from the business that made him rich and famous. Here’s what happened, according to Gaggan.

No clickbait: The article is basically just a tick tock of negotiations between Gaggan and his partners, so there’s no reason not to wait until Friday to read it. This is simply a good opportunity to say thank you to those of you who have chipped in to support Family Meal financially. (If you want to chip in too, here’s that link.)

Thank you!

Lists I Like – Eater’s useful “Most Anticipated Restaurants for Fall 2019” lists are out, with a summary intro from Hillary Dixler Canavan here, and city by city links here divided by dashes to help guide your thumbs: AtlantaBostonCharlestonChicagoDallasDenverHoustonLas Vegas — Los AngelesMiamiNashvilleNew OrleansPhiladelphiaSan FranciscoSeattleTwin CitiesWashington, D.C. Worth noting the one restaurant mentioned in Canavan’s summary, but not included in an Eater city page: “Michael and Tara Gallina, the couple behind 2017 Eater Best New Restaurant Vicia, [are] opening their second St. Louis restaurant, taking over the longstanding Winslow’s Home restaurant and making it their own.”

Tis the Season – The NYT is also out with a fall restaurant preview, with at least 14 different articles under the umbrella headline: “49 Good Reasons to Make a Restaurant Reservation.” They include Florence Fabricant on “Fall’s Biggest Openings”; a profile on Victoria Blamey in her new role at Gotham Bar and Grill from Priya Krishna; Fabricant again on some “veteran chefs… [stepping] back into the spotlight” (think: Alfred Portale, Larry Forgione, Shaun Hergatt, Bill Yosses, and, at 84, Jean-Jacques Rachou); and more.

Some sad news – “Biba Caggiano, a seminal figure in the Sacramento food scene whose midtown Italian restaurant bearing her first name put the state capital on the culinary map, died Thursday morning... Caggiano was 82 and had lived with Alzheimer’s disease in her final years.” Full obituary via Marcos Bretón in the Sacramento Bee.

The Profile Treatment – Known spoon thief Iliana Regan and her Milkweed property are getting a lot of attention lately, but if you’ve got room for one chef profile this week, highly recommend this one from Julia Bainbridge, where black and white blur in Heated: “She felt confident when she emailed Jeff Gordinier, then a staff writer for the food section of The New York Times, to tell him that she thought she was doing something special and that he should come see it. Throughout our interview, though, she tugs at the sleeves of her sweater. She can be shy, she says. Regan can have a Michelin star and also be wracked with worry over her ability to manage her employees. She can learn to loosen up, trusting her chef de cuisine to run the restaurant while she’s opening her new inn and also carry her espresso spoons close, for fear that they might get stolen (again). Perhaps the reason so many describe her as a mystery is that she’s knowingly — and publicly — living the truth we’ve been taught to deny, that life is a constant seesawing between success and failure, joy and pain.”

The (Pastry) Profile Treatment – In Food & Wine, Andy Wang has a fun write up on Mac Daniel Dimla, executive pastry chef of L.A. fine-dining restaurant Providence: “Providence’s pastry prodigy has a reputation for being a man of few words. (‘He talked to you?’ [chef and co-owner Michael Cimarusti] asks incredulously when I tell him that Dimla and I had a good conversation.) When I interview Dimla, I start by asking him to help me understand how he got in his position at such a young age. I tell him we can begin with the short version if he wants. ‘My whole career is the short version,’ he says with a smile. ‘I’m 23, you know.’”

For the Somm: “Testing Times” – This week on Australia’s goodfood website, Attica wine director Jane Lopes gives her first person account of the cheating scandal that voided the results of the Court of Master Sommelier’s September, 2018 exam. Lopes, who says she won’t sit the exam again, gets into both the personal toll and the details as she now knows them: “We discovered that an email had been written the morning of the tasting exam by a senior Master Sommelier, who was a member of the Board of Directors. The recipients were blind copied, but we found first-hand that there were three recipients, with rumours of one more. The email revealed the identity of two of the six wines in the blind tasting exam: a pinot grigio and a Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The Board stated publicly that they had received the information about the breach on October 5, 2018. They also stated that they made their decision concerning the invalidation of the exam and the subsequent stripping of titles on October 8. And, somewhere in there, they claimed thorough investigation and painstaking deliberation took place. All the decades of dedication that led to those credentials being achieved were cast aside in three days and two Board meetings.”

For Design Fans – I’ll go see this one in person and report back ASAP, but as far as I can tell from this Mitchell Geng photo spread in The Spaces, Julien Royer’s new place in Hong Kong, Louise, is a beaut. A bit confused by the ceiling fixtures in the first picture (do 30 separate flush mount fixtures a chandelier make?), but love the Thonet chairs and jungle carpet. So much focus on fun wallpaper these days, whither all the funky rugs? Plus, I’ll take two of those sculpted hand lamps please, and whatever guesses on budget you may have…

And that’s it for today. Paid subscribers, please let me know your thoughts on the Gaggan piece when you can! My editor is in love with long sentences and sprinkled commas. He needs help…

I’ll see you here Friday for next Family Meal.

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or all the funky rugs to andrew@thisfamilymeal.com. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, please chip in here. If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!

Gaggan’s Final Days, According to Gaggan

Almost exactly one year before he was scheduled to close his restaurant for good, chef Gaggan Anand and 65 of his staff abruptly resigned from the business that made him rich and famous. Here’s what happened, according to Gaggan.

Gaggan Anand hosts dinner in “The Lab” on the penultimate night of service, Friday, August 23rd, 2019.

BANGKOK – On August 24th, 2019, Gaggan, probably the most famous Indian fine dining restaurant in the world, closed for good. It held two Michelin stars, a spot in the top 5 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, and a reservations book pushed to waitlist for the next 10 months. The reason given was standard: Business differences between the investors, who owned most of the company behind the restaurant, and the eponymous star chef, Gaggan Anand, a minority shareholder. But what’s odd about this sudden shutter is that the team had already announced in 2016 that they were going to close Gaggan in summer 2020, to end on a high note after ten years in business.

The way Gaggan tells it — and it should be emphasized that what follows is only his side of the story; attempts to reach the partners have not yet been successful — the cracks began long ago, “when business started to become business, and I started to become Gaggan.” And though the underlying natural tension that came with differing levels of fame and perceived success wasn’t the only problem, at best it didn’t help resolve other issues, at worst it may have caused more. There were the failed deals in Dubai and with the Four Seasons Mumbai that Gaggan says strained relations with his partner Rajesh Kewalramani. There was the steak restaurant, Meatlicious, that Gaggan opened without the other partners ("I thought they were non-beefeaters, and wouldn’t want to make money in beef"). There was a growing mistrust.

Gaggan says the mistrust is ultimately what soured everything for him. There had always been arguments, but when he started getting questions about how he was using resources, when his purchase orders started getting held up, and when the partners began telling him to scale back staff perks, he decided he couldn’t stay much longer. “I can’t have them checking on me. It’s too suffocating for me. It’s too suffocating for me to want an ice cream machine for my staff and have to ask permission. It’s too suffocating. And the company makes a lot of profit. So if I’m doing a loss, I am answerable to them, but we are making way more money than anyone else in this industry.”

He insists he had not given his partners any reason for increased scrutiny, but in mid-June 2019, a full year before the restaurant was supposed to close, it all came to a head.

Here is what actually happened in those final days, according to Gaggan. On June 17th, the chef was at Wet, the wine bar he and his partners own next door to the restaurant in Bangkok, when he heard Rajesh, his brother Latesh (also a partner), and their families speaking nearby. He went over to say hello, but Rajesh began asking what felt like aggressive questions about recent expenses and the bills for their latest pop-up at LA Bowl. Gaggan got angry and left, but still went back to the restaurant to put on another show for his guests that night.

The next day, after spending most of the morning and early afternoon with his young daughter while his wife was away at a conference, he got a call. Rajesh and Latesh were at the restaurant, going through the books from the night before and questioning the cashier and manager about the numbers. Gaggan was furious. “Checking my cashier whose salary is [considerably less than what Gaggan and his partners make], who’s worked for me for ten years, who makes Thai staff food for no extra cost for all the Thais. And she was crying, and my manager was crying. When I reached the restaurant my partners had already left… I spoke to [the cashier and the manager], and I felt obliged to them. I felt embarrassed to them. I felt apologetic to them. And I felt like a cancer had gone where the trust with money had gone, and if that cancer has entered this restaurant, I can’t continue working here. Then I will be watched in everything I do.”

He says he called three people: his wife, his mom, and his lawyer. His wife told him she was with him all the way. His mom told him she was proud of him (“You’re fighting for your rights, and you’re fighting for others’ rights, and you’re fighting for what’s right.”). His lawyer helped him draft an ultimatum.

In a document dated June 21, 2019, Gaggan’s lawyers gave his partners two options. They could either: (A) Reduce their total shares to 30%, transfer all remaining shares to the chef “without consideration,” give Gaggan a salary bump to 15% of total revenue, and relinquish all control of the restaurant’s operations; or (B) Sell Gaggan all of their shares and be out of the restaurant altogether. He proposed a price of 10 million Thai baht — almost $330k U.S. — for each of their 25% stakes, in effect offering the partners almost $1M for full ownership of the business.

They had two days to decide, with a deadline of June 23rd. Gaggan tendered his resignation, effective August 24th, the next day. It was the day before the World’s 50 Best Restaurant awards, and the chef was in Singapore for the event. He had wanted to make sure he resigned before the ceremony, so that no one could accuse him of doing it as a result of the new rankings, but after speaking with William Drew, Director of Content at 50 Best, he decided it would be better to hold off on making the news public until after the awards. When Gaggan stood to accept the number four position on the list the following night, the brothers, seated a row away from him, did not stand. He says only one shook his hand. Their restaurant, having just become 50 Best’s highest ranking restaurant in Asia in the entire 18-year history of that list, would last only two more months.

But the end was not yet certain, and the partners were not yet ready to let go of the business. “They invested only 5M baht each, and the balance sheet?” Gaggan says, “Forget it. On the last day of service we made about 1.8M baht [around $60k] in one day as revenue. I think they’ve got almost 100 times or more worth of assets of what they invested in nine years.”

When everyone got back to Bangkok, Gaggan says the partners tried to ask the chef’s team to calm him down, and they had a meeting where Gaggan proposed yet another stock shift. The other partners would still become minority owners, but Gaggan would transfer twenty percent of his shares to head chef Rydo Anton, with the eventual goal of opening a new restaurant called Rydo Anton Gaggan Anand. He claims he offered ten more years of business, with hypothetical restaurants all over the world, and a new structure for capital payouts. “They would not have to work or lift a pen. All they would have to do is come and accept dividends.” The key condition was still control.

Gaggan wrote “It’s my fucking life” on a wall of The Lab in the lead up to closure.

While negotiations went back and forth, Gaggan went public with his resignation in Singapore’s Straights Times, citing “major differences” with his investors, but adding, “I'm planning to buy over the other shares and if I succeed, I'll still run the restaurant. Otherwise, I may open a new restaurant.”

“I had to go public because they were taking me for granted.” He says. “They thought I was not serious. They thought I had nowhere to go.”

Gaggan went on vacation. The partners tried a new approach. They installed security cameras throughout the restaurant, called an all-staff (minus one) meeting, and told the team they intended to keep Gaggan open without its namesake chef until at least June 2020, if not longer. Every employee who stayed would be offered four months salary as bonus, to be vested in two chunks over the next year. According to Gaggan, some key staff were offered six to eight month bonuses. The team had until 5PM on July 16th, to decide.

Gaggan says there were no cell phones allowed in the meeting. “I was literally shitting in my pants. Like what are they offering? What will they get?” But when he finally found out the terms: “I was laughing. They did the best they could to offer money, where I was offering love. The whole fight started to protect my staff, and they are offering money?” Only 7 out of 72 employees accepted the bonus scheme.

Surveillance cameras on the walls of The Lab at Gaggan, which the chef says his partners installed in mid-July, 2019.

There were one or two more attempts at comity over the next few days, but Gaggan says at one point his wife simply asked him if he really wanted to continue working with his partners, and he had to say no. Then he found out about the trademark.

As he was finishing up his holiday, his lawyer told him that apparently, back in 2013, Rajesh and Latesh had registered a trademark for the name “Gaggan”, along with a blue font and logo used on the signage and website, without his knowledge. He and his wife were both livid. “So on the 21st of July, we came back from holiday. We landed here at 12:30PM. We went home. Our daughter was taken care of. And then immediately, we went out looking for locations.”

While he’d been away, he says, they had been plotting against him, but he had been plotting his new restaurant. The missing pieces were where and with whom. “We got the location within 48 hours. In the evening we went to the ATM and gave the guy an advance of seven months. So by the 22nd we were sure where we were doing the new restaurant. By the 23rd, we knew who we were doing it with. By the 24th, all my 65 staff willingly resigned [from Gaggan] and said OK we’ll open a new restaurant with you.”

He thinks that up until this moment, exactly one month before final service, his partners had believed they could keep the doors open with or without him.

The final month was a bitter wrap up. While a parade of new guests and old friends came through the dining room for one last meal, the staff was keeping up appearances under a new regime of frugality and surveillance. Comps were out of the question. Gaggan says some of their final paychecks were docked the cost of alcohol from previous team parties.

And then, two days before close, Rajesh sent him an email asking for the recipes. He responded with his thoughts on the tradeoffs made over the last nine years. “I said, ‘You owe me more than that. You owe an apology to my wife, to my daughter, for not spending time with them. I missed my daughter’s walking. I missed my daughter saying her first words. I missed everything in the success of this restaurant. And yes, I became Gaggan, but you guys got 75% richer on every cake that I baked.’”

On the very last night, something happened that Gaggan says never happened before in all the years the restaurant and bar were in full swing. Someone called the cops. It was over.

Author’s note: I reached out to Gaggan’s partners via Facebook and email, but never heard back. I would still love to hear from them and get their help in updating this story as needed: andrew@thisfamilymeal.com.

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