Not a week after opening his new Harlem endeavor, 5 & Diamond, Ryan Skeen has lost his general manager, the notorious Gwen Butler, after an incident that occurred after service Wednesday night. “She assaulted me,” Skeen tells us. We’ve heard the chef was punched in the face, but Skeen, without getting into specifics, quibbled with that description: “In my opinion, it’s a woman kind of attacking me — in my mind, it’s not like me and a guy throwing punches with each other.” Butler, who is also keeping things vague, told us in an e-mail, “Maybe I’m too street, but I respond in kind to someone putting their hands on me.” Needless to say, Butler is no longer at the restaurant, and her front-of-house staff has left with her. So what exactly happened?
First off, Skeen tells us, “I like Gwen a lot. I think she’s a really good person. Gwen is the person who put me in touch with my partners up there.” Butler confirms, “I was the one who campaigned very hard to place him in his position and cleared a lot of space around him with the owners to come and go and do exactly as he pleased while he worked on other projects.” (We’ve heard Skeen has also been working with the owners of Coffee Shop, who you’ll recall were set to take over Empire Diner.)
But in the past days, their working relationship began to go south. “There were a lot of things that weren’t handled in the front of the house, consistently,” says Skeen. “The front of house was kind of a mess.” Skeen goes on: “When I could no longer have her back she made it difficult for me to be able to go to my partners and support her anymore, and all of the sudden she flipped out over that and the incident occurred.”
Butler confirms that they’re “both hot heads and had words,” and writes:
For him to insinuate I did anything less than a stellar job — in a fraction of the usual time and money it takes — conceptualizing, physically building and developing this project is delusional and insulting. So much so that the whole FOH staff quit in protest over his attitude toward me and the owners’ complete lack of integrity vis a vis our original partnership agreement and my role as GM.
So in a way Ryan is correct in saying I wasn’t running the foh to his liking — it wasn’t to mine either. When the owners began to undermine my position— as well as reneging on partnership promises to me days before we opened — Ryan stood back and let it happen.
Skeen confirms that Butler “was most upset because she thought she was going to be a partner, and that wasn’t an option.” Meanwhile Butler says that Skeen isn’t a partner himself (she accuses him of “siding with [the owners] to preserve his own chances of possible partnership in the future”). Skeen says he and the owners are “working on a partnership.”
So will the front-of-house exodus affect service? “I’ve got a full staff of people waiting to come work with me,” Skeen tells us. “I don’t feel her staff was up to par with what I would’ve done anyway. I think it’ll only make the restaurant better at this point because the bad energy only affects the restaurant.”
All that said, both parties wish each other well. “I greatly enjoyed working and talking with him and regret we parted ways,” says Butler. And Skeen: “She’s a good person and I hate to see this.”