We’ve now had a chance to talk to Nate Smith, the chef who parted ways with Dean Street yesterday, and he says John Longo and Rob Gelardi fired him in large part due to a disagreement about whether or not the television should be played during dinner hours. “There were a lot of people coming to eat food, and it was important to me to protect their experience in a way,” Smith tells us. “We basically got a lot of resistance from them. I was adamant that I didn’t want to be part of a sports bar, and it quickly started to feel that way.” Smith, who says he’s “not a television person” and believes “it didn’t feel very Brooklyn” to have the game playing, admits he wasn’t a partner, but coming from the Spotted Pig, he thought he had reason to speak up about front-of-house matters. “It was clear to me, and still is, that John and Rob are not restaurant people and felt like they were in a little over their heads,” he says. He tells us, “I used a lot of experience to bring a lot of people into that project so that it could be a positive experience out of the gate, and had I not done that, it would’ve been a disaster.”
Smith also had a problem with the jukebox — a point of pride at Gelardi’s West Village bar WXOU. “We’re jamming, we’re busy, people are talking, and this really sleepy music would come on, and it felt very not in sync.” The chef also wanted to be included in decisions about the bar: “I felt like they should be hosting more options that have some character rather than being the basic bar setup.” Though Smith admits the owners for the most part took his suggestions, he feels it was just to quiet him. During what he describes as a final “tense talk” about the television that included his wife, pastry chef Sophie Kamin, he says, “They all kind of chuckled and had snide jokes about, ‘Oh, you don’t watch television.’ It became this thing of, ‘People are spending hundreds of dollars — wouldn’t you want to protect that experience instead of jeopardize that?’ But he was unwilling to budge — he had this concept he was sticking to, and he wasn’t going to realize that maybe it wouldn’t work.”
Smith says that after the exchange, he used his day off to think about things — “I was ready to back off and let them run the bar as they wanted to, and I was going to start thinking about the reality, which is that I was not an owner and I was treating it as if I was.” However, he wasn’t welcomed back: “They took the weekend to find someone to replace me — they didn’t want to get rid of their chef [earlier], when they can make $18,000 in a weekend.”
Smith says he, Kamin, and two or three other cooks who left with them are now “looking at Williamsburg,” where he hopes to partner with “some people who own some bars in Williamsburg that we’ve been looking to do projects with.” He’s “working quickly to move forward” and says he’ll be back in the kitchen “sooner rather than later.”
The owners of Dean Street wouldn’t comment about the specifics of Smith’s departure. “We wish Nate nothing but the best,” Rob Gelardi told us. “He’s a very talented chef.” They’re currently looking for his replacement, so if you’re an up-and-comer who happens to be a baseball fan, give ’em a call.