Of plans and Pigs, Isabella in detail, Bajeux gone, Nguyen sued, LA Critics, 50-50 Best, and more...
Family Meal - Tuesday, September 11th, 2018
Personal note: If you are in the path of Hurricane Florence on the East Coast, please play it safe. The latest NYT update starts with “The focus is now on limiting the loss of life.” Good focus.
And now, for less pressing news: Let’s get to it…
“true heartbreak!” – In NYC, “Disgraced restaurateur Ken Friedman won’t be bailed out by… Gabrielle Hamilton and her partner Ashley Merriman after all…. In an email with the subject line ‘true heartbreak!’, Hamilton wrote that she and the restaurateur could not reach a final deal for her to operate the iconic West Village gastropub [the Spotted Pig].” The pair had announced back in June that they were definitely going to be “chef-owners” of the Pig, and likened their stepping in to help Mr. Friedman to José Andrés’s disaster relief work in Puerto Rico.
Details and full emails to staff from both Hamilton and Merriman in Eater NY. Per Merriman: “This has nothing to do with money. We got our first (split between the two of us) paycheck three weeks ago. The deal that we can’t make with Ken is based on principle and ideology. We wanted to be the final decision-makers at the restaurant -- The Buck-Stops-Here- type owners for the good / the bad / the ugly and everything that comes between in a restaurant. We can’t come to an agreement with Ken about such a structure.”
Whatever you think of that initial plan or the motivations behind it, nothing says brilliant business/PR like announcing a solid commitment to a still hypothetical deal that no one likes, taking all the backlash, doubling down, getting more backlash, and then banking exactly half a paycheck from said deal before it falls apart.
And speaking of bad PR … The Washington Post’s Tim Carman and Maura Judkis are back with a deep dive into Mike Isabella’s now partially bankrupt restaurant empire, including details that show precarious financial footing well before alleged sexual harassment pushed his business over a cliff. “Some investors, former employees and managers say Mike Isabella Concepts was already overextended, launching four places in 2017 alone, including [his massive Isabella Eatery food hall], which they say opened with too few staff and too little money…. [But] to Isabella, the company was never overextended. ‘You know why I didn’t think it was too much? Because I had about 20 other f---ing deals on the table’ before the lawsuit, he said. Eight of them were underway, including plans for more restaurants in the District, as well as in ‘Vegas, Houston, Atlanta, Philly. Some of them, multiple projects in a city.’ Bankruptcy filings also mention a project in the Middle East…. After the lawsuit, the deals on the table ‘all went away,’ Isabella said.” Well worth the cautionary tale longread.
And on the numbers side of things, the Washington Business Journal’s Rebecca Cooper has a break down of all the dollar signs in Isabella’s public bankruptcy filings. Find restaurant by restaurant liabilities and assets (“Arroz - Liabilities: $1,201,383.14 / Assets: $1,051,066.57”), revenue stats (Isabella Eatery had pro-rated gross revenue of $177 / sqf), and intracompany money shuffles (“Arroz loaned the parent company $21,065. In turn, Arroz loaned Isabella Eatery $22,224, and the original Kapnos… loaned Arroz $23,500”) here.
Some sad news – “René Bajeux, the French-born chef who became a standard-bearer of his native cuisine in New Orleans, died Monday morning (Sept. 10) of cardiac arrest in Jackson, Mississippi, according to longtime friend and fellow chef Chuck Subra. Bajeux was 61.” Full obituary from Brett Anderson in The Times-Picayune.
The (L.A.) Critics – On Friday, The Hollywood Reporter launched “a new monthly dining review column. Senior writer Gary Baum will review one restaurant per month, based on multiple visits with reservations made under another name. All meals are paid for by THR.” First up, Bill Chait’s Tesse. FYI, FOH: He seems to be half trying for anonymity, but good images of Baum are easily found online, including recent video interviews.
Define “Amicable” – Last month, when Grubstreet announced chef John Nguyen was leaving his East Village restaurant Hanoi House to head to Hong Kong, they reported he and the owners were splitting on “good terms”. Now, NY Post’s Julia Marsh reports those same owners, Sara Leveen and Ben Lowell, claim Nguyen “was sacked last month for allegedly showing up drunk to work then leaving just 90 minutes into his shift.” They’re asking a judge to keep him at least 3 blocks away from the restaurant, and “They also want to prevent him from disclosing any recipes after he allegedly said in a recent text, ‘I am teaching a Hanoi house pho and I am share my recipes with everyone in nyc’ and ‘I am not leaving until I feel like I hurt your [sic] enough…your family is next.’” Nguyen denies the claims, and implies the Leveen and Lowell are simply pushing him out now that the restaurant is a success.
50-50 Best – Friday announcement from Hélène Pietrini, Director of The World's 50 Best Restaurants List: “From now, 50 Best is committed to achieving a 50-50 gender balance across its 1,040-strong worldwide Academy of voters. Prior to the next round of voting for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Academy members will also be encouraged to look beyond the current list, to explore a diverse mix of restaurants during their travels and to take issues of representation into consideration in their voting choices.”
Appropriately lukewarm reaction from Eater EIC Amanda Kludt: “Judges are still, of course, anonymous and able to accept junkets and comps, and they are keeping their Best Female Chef award, but one thing at a time.”
East Bay Legal Eagle – After putting the kibosh on their operation late last month, the Alameda County health department announced Monday that it “will temporarily halt its efforts to shut down pop-up restaurants while it figures out a strategy for permitting them.” The Chronicle’s Jonathan Kauffman has the details.
Midwest Moves – In St Louis, “Mike Randolph has closed his acclaimed, year-old tasting-menu restaurant Privado. The restaurant, which featured a single seating on Friday and Saturday evenings, opened in October 2017.” He told the Post-Dispatch’s Ian Froeb that they sold out every night but couldn’t make the financials work.
That Fast Casual $$$ - “Chef Rick Bayless has found a partner in the Philippines to help grow his fast-casual chain Tortas Frontera in the United States. Jollibee Foods Corp., a fast-food company based in the Philippines, announced Friday a $12.4 million investment in Tortas Frontera, the fast-casual chain started by Bayless. The investment gives Jollibee, through its U.S. subsidiary, a 47 percent stake.” Details via Greg Trotter in the Tribune.
For design fans - There’s a photo spread for designer Tom Dixon’s new Coal Office Restaurant, which is apparently meant as a London testing ground for his prototype creations, in Wallpaper this week. And while a good portion of the space is given over to his classic mirror balls and “Melt” pendant lighting, there are also some “pre-release ‘Fat’ bar stools which line the bar and high tables” to direct your modern side eye toward. Let’s all just pretend that the industrial-scoop terrace seating is a computer rendering that doesn’t exist. Thank you.
And last but not least - Tomorrow is my birthday (I know, I know… you’re impressed), but in lieu of cake, do me a favor and forward Family Meal on to a friend, shout it out on social media, or chip in to keep it going by starting a paid subscription here. Thanks to everyone who has subscribed so far, and thanks to the thousands of you already reading! I’ll think of you when I’m blowing out the candles tomorrow night, wishing for world peace with a side of previously-forgotten-massive-bitcoin-stash as always.
And that’s it for today. Stay safe out there on the East Coast, and I’ll see you here Friday - another year older but just as charming as ever - for next Family Meal.
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