Allen & Delancey owner Dick Friedberg has told us his version of things, and it’s not surprising that Ryan Skeen doesn’t exactly agree. The chef tells us that, contrary to Friedberg’s assertion that he wasn’t in the kitchen enough, he worked 35 straight days at the beginning of his tenure and spent an average of 80 to 85 hours per week at work, five nights a week. The only reason he didn’t show up the other two days, he says, was because he felt the manager during those nights didn’t have sufficient restaurant experience, and refused to work with her (Friedberg tells us the manager in question was more than qualified, having been with Allen & Delancey since 2005).
As for Friedberg saying that Skeen didn’t adhere to his budget and hired chefs unbeknownst to him, Skeen counters that he on occasion broke $8,000 per week in kitchen costs (a figure he believes is “not a lot for a kitchen to spend”), and that three weeks ago he restructured his budget so that spending would go down to $3,000 per week. The chef says he only brought on three kitchen hands (a chef de cuisine, a sous-chef, and a garde manger) and that the kitchen staff accounted for just 9 percent of the budget, at around $5,200 per week ($7,000 per week including Skeen’s salary). In fact, Skeen says that he was asked to hire more cooks, but he refused to bring others into an environment that he described to us as “very, very shady.” (Dick Friedberg tells us that the numbers Skeen gave us are “totally off base.” He sticks by his story: “His food budget was much higher than was ever anticipated.”)
While Skeen believes that the reasons Friedberg gave for his dismissal amount to “straight lying,” he acknowledges that his former boss would’ve been in the right to dismiss him for insubordination. A month ago, Skeen, at the urging of his kitchen team (holdovers from his time at Resto and Irving Mill), refused to give the restaurant a fall menu he had drawn up, since he worried that it would be used after his departure. The problems started before that: As has been reported, Skeen encouraged chefs to walk out after, according to Skeen, credit-card tips were held for a week at a time, and then paid out via checks that then bounced.
After certain employees had their checking accounts frozen due to bounced checks, Skeen says he devised a system where employees and purveyors would be paid in cash, but even then, he had misgivings about the restaurant’s financial practices. “We went over the budget several times and the numbers sometimes didn’t make sense,” Skeen says. “There’s only so much you can do if the people you’re handing the money over to are then playing with the numbers at that point.”
Regarding the restaurant’s cash-flow issues, Freidberg tells us, “We pay in cash because if the revenue isn’t there we take it from other sources. Tips are paid according to law and according to plan. These are issues that, if he had, he should’ve discussed with me.” So did the fact that Skeen took his beef to Twitter play into things? “I don’t think there’s any place in our industry for the kind of language, and the references he used to other food reviewers, but it didn’t play a part in my final decision. It’s been in consideration for a number of weeks.”
Asked whether he’s truly fed up with New York, Skeen tells us that while he’s not ruling out staying in the city that still excites him if the opportunity is right, he’s also entertaining the idea of working in a low-profile restaurant in New Jersey, where his ex-wife and 2-year-old son live (having a son, he says, has changed his priorities). “Coming from Resto to Irving Mill to this place, it’s a whirlwind of pressure, especially with all the young rising-star chef stuff to deal with.”
Meanwhile, Allen & Delancey is ready to move on. Friedberg tells us, “I put out the feelers last week and we have over 54 résumés from fine professionals. Names that you could spell backwards.”