Chef Michael White’s restaurant empire struggles

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michael whiteJanuary 17, 2016- by Steven E. Greer

It’s amazing to me how many of these celebrity chefs have very bad business track records. Many of them have either failed at several restaurants and had to close down, and/or been sued in federal court by employees, and/or gone bankrupt, etc., and yet they still keep getting new partnership deals. How can they close down a restaurant and not be on the hook for the remainder of the lease or the bank loans? I’d like to see these partnership agreements.

A friend of mine mentioned yesterday that he ate at a Geoff Zakarian restaurant. I looked him up. He is being sued by Trump for bailing on a DC restaurant. He was also sued by employees for back wages and filed bankruptcy, and has had restaurants fail. Despite that, he is running the Plaza hotel and other places primarily because he has name recognition value from being of TV food shows.

Other examples like Zakarian are aplenty. Todd English is a drunk with failed restaurnts but keeps getting restaurant deals. Floyd Cardoz has struck out three times. Bobby Flay’s places always fail, and so on.

Basically, if I were a banker or investor, any chef who has ever appeared on the Food Network or Bravo would be disqualified immediately. Also, anyone who is a Wall Street reject and thinks that they can run restaurants would be disqualified.

In the NY Post today is a story about how celebrity chef Michael White had a really bad tear in 2015. They write, “Since he opened Marea on Central Park South in 2009, Midwest-born chef Michael White has brought more successful riffs to “creative” Italian cuisine than any toque since Mario Batali. His braised-octopus-and-bone-marrow fusilli at Marea is a modern classic, and White’s Altamarea (“high tide”) Group, where he’s partners with ex-Merrill Lynch moneybags Ahmass Fakahany, expanded around the world and picked up multiple Michelin stars.

But 2015 was a wet noodle of a year. White and Altamarea closed the oddly conceived Wisconsin-themed cocktail bar the Butterfly in Tribeca and megabucks Italian steakhouse Costata in Soho. Their palatial uptown French restaurant, Vaucluse, which debuted in September, has received snotty reviews.

Fakahany penned an open letter to New York Times critic Pete Wells, crankily assailing him for giving it only one star. The tirade made Altamarea a laughingstock.

Losing Costata was a bitter pill. It occupied the space that was once Fiamma, where White made his first New York splash, and, when it opened in 2013, it was supposed to herald White’s triumphant return to Spring Street. Its “tomahawk” rib-eye initially wowed critics and celebs like Prince and Jessica Simpson. But empty seats soon proliferated.

But even at successful spots, like Ristorante Morini uptown, there are potential signs of trouble. They cut most pasta prices last year to an unbelievable $10 after 8:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. A rep explains the deep discount on dishes normally priced up to $26 as merely a plot to attract “younger people from the neighborhood.

But even Fakahany concedes that they need to rein in their ambitions in 2016 and not open any new places in New York. “We are slowing down enormously,” he tells The Post. “It’s a hunker-down time.””

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