An ambitious new North Beach vegetarian restaurant may close before it even gets momentum, thanks to a labor dispute that’s resulted in a staff walkout, servers working double-duty in the kitchen and an aggressive but vague smear campaign by one chef alleging mistreatment.
Barely 2 months ago, the Usual Suspects Cafe reopened after a renovation, boasting a new vegetarian and vegan menu with a hip 50’s diner twist. The initial reviews were mostly glowing and there was talk of the Usual Suspects giving popular veggie spots like Herbivore a run for their money. But a meltdown in the kitchen seems to have left this promising upstart reeling on the brink of closure.
Rumors and speculation about the Usual Suspects have been making their way around the food blog and website circuit this past week fueled in large part by former chef Ted Rosenblatt, indicating a pretty intense a labor dispute between Bob Bosco, the owner, and himself and Mark Benedetto, the other chef. Bosco doesn’t deny that there’s been a dispute, but claims that some of Rosenblatt’s actions amount to slander.
We spoke with Rosenblatt and Bosco. Find out what they have to say after the jump…
According to Rosenblatt, he and Benedetto both started working with Bosco on the restaurant renovation 3 months ago. Rosenblatt says that the initial collaborations were fine, but a few weeks into the renovations Bob and the chefs had conflicting opinions on how things should be run.
Most of the disputes erupted over the menu; on how items should be prepared and which items should be severed, Rosenblatt says. Rosenblatt recounted the most recent conflict, during lunch last week, concerning the preparation of potatoes for the house fries. Ted claims that Bosco didn’t like that Rosenblatt and Benedetto were baking the potatoes, and that, “he was belligerent while there were customers in the restaurant,” allegedly swearing and yelling at the two chefs.
That dispute was the final straw, Rosenblatt said. He and Benedetto permanently left the kitchen, taking their recipes with them. But the animosity was far from over. Last week, Rosenblatt contacted Menupages and Yelp, saying that the Usual Suspects Cafe has been closed. A thread on the Post Punk Kitchen message board, started by a user named mbenedet, who identifies himself as a former chef at Usual Suspects, says the restaurant, “as we’re concerned, is closed.”
Rosenblatt, who identified himself as a manager named Edward when he contacted Menupages to say the restaurant was closed, said in an interview he wants online menus taken down because they were created by him and Benedetto and should no longer be associated with anything relating to Bosco.
Bosco’s side is remarkably similar, though without any mention of belligerent behavior. He confirmed that the two chefs had left their positions last week and that Rosenblatt had dropped off his keys Monday afternoon.
While Bosco made no comment about his personal feelings on their seemingly abrupt departure, he said he is frustrated that Rosenblatt appears to be instigating a smear campaign against him and his restaurant.
“They are trying to close my restaurant. They are ruining my business,” Bosco said.
Bosco didn’t make any claims that the chefs’ retreat was unfounded, but he did make it clear that The Usual Suspects is not closed and he feels he is being sabotaged. He said that the menu was created as a collaboration, but that 60 to 70 percent of the menu content was his.
Since the chefs’ departure, he has created new menus that change daily and, interestingly, the cuisine has also changed–while it’s still vegetarian The Usual Suspects is now promoting “Vegan Russian Homestyle Cooking” prepared fresh daily by 3 Russian servers-cum-cooks. He emphasized that the current hours of operation are Tuesday through Saturday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and that his mission is, “fresh food: 3 hours from farmer’s market to table.”
That’s a laudable goal, but if it’s to work, he’s going to need a customer or two, which, from the looks of things Tuesday night, seem to be in shorter supply than cooks.