As we reported yesterday, chef Steve Forte left Farmers’ Cabinet on Wednesday night–departing for points unknown after just 7 months behind the stoves. And this, of course, set off a storm of speculation, rumors and trash-talk about Matt and Colleen Swartz‘s Walnut Street bar. We heard everything from tales of imminent closure and mountains of debt to stories of bounced paychecks and massive walk-out from the staff.
Some of this is true. Some of it is not. I talked with operations manager Will Pumphrey (who is currently standing in as GM at Farmers’ Cabinet) and while he admitted that there are problems both on the floor and in the offices, a lot of the talk out there right now is “grossly exaggerated.”
So how do things really stand right now at Farmers’ Cabinet?
“We’re operating,” Pumphrey said when I asked him how things were going after all this late-in-the-week drama. It hasn’t been a good time, but right now, the doors are open, the lights are on and the kitchen is working. In what Pumphrey insisted was an “amicable” departure sealed with “hugs and handshakes,” Steve Forte left the kitchen on Wednesday. “He left on good terms,” Pumphrey said. “There were some things that he wanted to do, but Matt wanted to go in a different direction.”
Forte’s jump was followed in short order by three more resignations–those of general manager Nick Kulik, FOH manager Jeff Boyle and event coordinator Teresa Kulik. Farmers’ Cabinet also lost a brewer recently (Terry Hawbaker), a bar crew and more then one chef–which is a lot for a place that’s only been open about 16 months. But still, four top names vanishing from the roster in a single night? Even with these folks all being friends or married, it still looked bad. And at that point, the internets just went kind of nuts.
Pumphrey, though, is trying to remain positive and emphasize the good. As of right now, the rest of the kitchen crew remains intact–including Matt Broeze, Scott McGill, Jake O’Donnel and Ed Konrad, who is currently holding down Forte’s former position, though it is said that Chris Allen from The Boilermaker may soon be taking over). Rumors had pastry chef Keri Fallon on the bricks, but she is still employed. As is Shawn O’Connell from the cheese department, who was missing during all the excitement and presumed gone, but was really just on vacation, according to Pumphrey. “Also, the dishwashing team is intact,” he told me, laughing.
As to the rumors of bounced paychecks? Pumphrey had no comment, other than to say that everyone was going to be taken care of. Canceled deliveries to the kitchen? “There is still food coming in.” Mountains of debt. “Look, it’s summer,” he told me. “Things are hard.” But he insisted that things are not as bad as the stories would have people believe. Farmers’ Cabinet is struggling, but not closing. “You can’t believe everything you hear.”
But neither can all of it be discounted. We’ll be keeping an eye on things at Farmers’ Cabinet in any event–waiting to see whether Wednesday’s excitement was just an isolated case of a bunch of friends all following each other out the door, or the mortal blow that people have been predicting since Farmers’ Cabinet’s earliest days on the scene.
additional reporting by Lou Mancinelli