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!