Fork & Barrel Owners Matthew and Colleen Swartz Sued, And It’s Not The First Time

Recently, Foobooz broke the bad news that East Falls beer emporium Fork & Barrel was no more. Owners Matthew and Colleen Swartz had closed the restaurant suddenly and without warning and said in a statement that they made a “business decision to close since The Farmers’ Cabinet [their brand new restaurant on Walnut Street] has so many of the same elements.” Now, they are being sued. And it’s not the first time.

On April 20, Fork & Barrel landlord and East Falls developer Mark Sherman filed a civil lawsuit in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas against the Swartzes. Matthew Swartz says the lawsuit is “frivolous” (see below for his complete statement).

In the lawsuit, Sherman’s company, Marck’s LLC, alleges that the Swartzes breached an oral agreement regarding their operation of another East Falls restaurant, Franco’s Trattoria. According to the complaint, the company is owed nearly $50,000 for rent, unpaid sales and liquor taxes, “food and merchandise,” and labor costs. Sherman told Foobooz that he intends to request that the District Attorney of Philadelphia pursue criminal charges.

The Swartzes are no strangers to civil litigation. State court records in Pennsylvania and Delaware show that several lawsuits have been filed against them to collect debts – apparently related to their former businesses Cottage Tradeworks of the Poconos region and Atlantic Jazz Yard of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. The lawsuits have led to several hundred thousand dollars in judgments against Matt Swartz (some also naming his wife and other parties), including one in Pennsylvania for $237,580 and, most recently, a January default judgment for $120,000 relating to the now defunct Atlantic Jazz Yard.

Court records indicate that Matthew Swartz voluntarily declared Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 1996, and started, then abandoned, personal bankruptcy proceedings in 2003 and 2005. It appears he has also spent time in criminal court – and jail. Federal court records show that in 2007, he pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and spent 6 months in federal prison as a result.

And this is the statement we received from Matthew Swartz yesterday in response to our request for a comment:

In response to the frivolous lawsuit filed by Mark Sherman against my wife and I, I have not even been served with this claim. The only copy I received was via email on March 28, 2011, stating that if I would not pay higher rent at Fork and Barrel he would file the attached lawsuit against me. We did go into Franco’s in early December to try to help Mark build his business since the original Franco left a year earlier.

The claims in the lawsuit are not even valid; they are unfounded. They deserve no response. We challenged ourselves to take over Franco’s to better the community and this is the thanks we receive. This is America, thus, anyone can sue anybody for anything. You never know who is going to be next.

I cannot understand what is so intriguing about something that happened four months ago. If it was newsworthy, why wasn’t it written about in January?

In regards to the abrupt closings, as we began to expand to larger and more successful ventures, this is a move we have contemplated for many months now. Granted, it is not an easy decision to close a restaurant due to the emotional, customer, and employee connections, but at the end of the day it is business. This was the best forward-thinking move to make. In other words, you don’t ride the same bike now that you did when you were 10 years old.

In regards to the other “garbage” that has been written about me, people can fabricate whatever crazy stories they want, but it will never stop me from bringing new and amazing restaurants to the Philadelphia scene. There are a lot more exciting projects on the way!

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  • Oscar

    This Swartz guy sounds delusional.

  • Rob

    Mark Sherman is scum. Don’t ever rent or buy from this scam artist. We rented an apartment from him and it was a nightmare. Late night calls, threats, sudden increases in rent. I feel sorry for anyone who wasn’t warned.

    • DM

      Sounds like you had the same experience as we did in renting from him… He is everything you say he is. And more.

  • Closing Time

    Both Swartz and Sherman are so full of shite their eyes are brown. Farmers Cabinet is nothing special, it will close. The landlord better find a way to triple that security deposit ASAP. Also, how does Swartz fail so many times? Is he a drug or gambling addict? Just full of hot air spending other peoples money on his pipedreams? He needs to go away ASAP before he is tarred and feathered and run out of this town like all the others he has lived in.

  • Jason

    Wow Veronica: that was impressively stated. Do you consider TGIF fine-dining? You seem like the type…

  • Portal Princess

    Caveat emptor all around. I agree w/the other posters who predict Farmer’s Cabinet will be gone soon – expensive & overly precious menu. Now that I’ve read so much about the owner, I see no reason to spend my dining out dollars on anything he operates.

  • tim

    Sherman is a lousy person. Not a decent bone in his body. This is just a story about lousy things happening to a lousy person.

    • DM

      Amen to that. He is not the most stand up guy, and that is the nicest thing I can possibly say about him.

  • Steve

    You should really take some time off from your drag cabaret and maybe take a writing course or two. You are obviously a 2-bit hack who is hoping for another 90+ hits on an irrevelavent article. How about focusing on food? Isn’t that the point of Foobooz?

  • InvestigativeReporting

    If Matthew Swartz and his wife have close to a half million dollars of unpaid judgments a larger question looms. How did they secure money to open four additional restaurants ? I would guess either through illegal sources or by fraud. There certainly is a piece of investigative reporting and criminal prosecution to take place. Kudos to Foobooz for pointing out the boiling pot. I am impressed with the progress this website has made since Philly Magazine took over. Someone from the Inquirer and DA’s office should now take over the research on this case since they have more resources dedicated to such a thing. I don’t think the Philadelphia DA’s office could find and successfully hold a criminal though even if they were stuck on an one hundred square foot island together. Shame on the Swartzes, pay your employees and vendors. You make me sick.

    • ExtraInvestigativeReporting

      “investigativeReporting” is written in a very similar style as the article with the grammatical mistake in both. Coincidence?

  • Snake

    Yeah, one begins to wonder whether the author or someone associated with the site has an axe to grind here. It’s gone a little over the top.

    • ExtraInvestigativeReporting

      This wouldn’t be the first time I heard that about this site or this “author.”

  • Ty Gerleighly

    I see a forensic grammarian is on the case, now I can breathe easier. And Victor, I love that you’ve got guts and style – just like “your” drag cabaret, which is awesome, btw, my friends and I try never to miss a show :-)

  • Josh A

    Anonymous astroturfing in the FOOBOOZ comments?? Who knew such things could happen on the internet??

  • veronica

    @ jason
    I consider you a pussy. I have worked in the restaurant world while you were probably stealing pennies from your family. As well I have ate, drank, and forgot more fine dining than you have ever seen. This is not about fine dining.
    Having no ties to this article its about how far off base this has become. My statement stands, enjoy what you will, I personaly love beer and food and hope this city continues on this trend. Ask your self how many times did Steven Star declare bankruptcy or how many people who own restaurants put every thing they have to bring us cool places to eat and drink. It is clear you know nothing of the restaurant world other than a keyboard and a glass of wine. Mind your own business. It is this sense of entitlement that we as diners have created that drives small restaurants out and is cancerous to the American pub culture, which itself is slowly dying and being replaced by corporate restaurants. From your inner resentment of TGIF I can tell that your harsh childhood memories of TGIF still haunt you. Get a life, stop being un-orignal

  • Jeff

    Hahah he’s gonna go to jail

  • BeerGeek

    I was a loyal customer of F&B and my curiosity got the best of me Friday night. My girl and I went into the Farmer’s Cabinet to see what was going on. We were greeted by a familiar face at the door. A waitress from F&B was hostessing. Phil from F&B was bartending. We noticed at least 2 other people from F&B working in the joint. We chatted up the bartender who told us all the drama is just that, drama. They even took some kitchen staff there and are awaiting the opening of a new place. The “Matts” took care of their valuable people and that says enough for me.

  • Anon

    It’s ok, very soon they will be rotting in jail for not paying the IRS a ton of money

  • pj

    over/under nov 1st for farmers cabinet lifespan?

  • TnT HH Regular

    Thank you for the updates.

    Matt S. is one arrogant s.o.b., isn’t he? “You don’t ride the same bike now that you did when you were ten”. Wow – as much as I was sorry Tap and Table closed, with his attitude, I’m glad I’m not spending my hard earned $$$ there anymore.

    Matt, have fun in jail, buddy. The taxman will see to that. Advice? Don’t drop your soap.

  • Barman

    Matt Scheller, Matt, and Colleen are total losers. I know from experience. They don’t have a clue about the service industry. Not a clue. Farmers Cabinet has the same service issues that the other places had…what a waste of time and real estate.


    The above comments are interesting. I can tell you first had as a relative of m. swartz…that something certainly does not sound kosher. If you have any information on Matt, which it seems some of you may, please post additonal comments b/c I would like to get into contact with you at some point.

  • DM

    If Matt is going to be rotting in jail for not paying up, he better save a seat for Mark Sherman right beside him. This man owes nearly a million dollars in unpaid back taxes to the City of Philadelphia. Yet he has the audacity to sue someone else? Laughable. Mark seems to be under the impression of, if he says it, it must be true. Someone should put a lien on his personal assets and make him pay back the back taxes, to the tune of one million dollars.

  • MADDMarv

    Matt writes bounce checks and owe the whole staff money, I’m ready to go to court…