National: 2008 Fail Favorites

’Tis the season for lists of all kinds: Wish lists and shopping lists, pontificating top-10 lists and roundups, predictions, regrets, and resolutions to beat the band. Some look forward, some back, and some look sideways with a loud snicker. We’re frankly sick of it, but also can’t resist adding a voice to the chorus.

But darn it, you don’t need another batch of trend predictions, or a roundup of favorites from last year. Who likes that kind of feel-good mumbo jumbo anyway, especially around the holidays when the stress is killing you? So here’s our list of restaurants, restaurateurs, and staff, who had it way, way worse than you over 2008. After the jump, find the best from the At Least I’m Not Them file.

• We’ll start in San Francisco, the home market of yours truly, where one name rises to the top of the mental google search for the word “debacle:” The Usual Suspects Cafe opened in May (well, it reopened with a new owner, staff and concept) as a vegan joint with live comedy. Barely two months after its May debut, a labor dispute ended with the kitchen staff storming out. The place flatlined for a minute with the waitstaff working double-duty in the kitchen, before finally crashing in late July. Then a brief re-opening in November lasted less than a month.

• In Boston, Circle lasted less than two months before it shuttered. Apparently townies don’t like it when you move a “full-service restaurant/lounge with a 2 a.m. liquor and entertainment license” into one of their beloved old soul joint. It didn’t survive long enough to garner an official review, but we thought it telling that not one write-up of the place (even the for-sale notice) failed to mention it was in “the former Bob’s Southern Bistro space.” This is a case of never leaving the shadow of your predecessor, and so never seeing the sun. It’s also a case of opening your doors right before the most expensive time of year and when everybody is suddenly poor.

• In Miami, a bass-pumping nightclub and restaurant, (turn your speakers off before clicking) Karu & Y, struggled on the edge of downtown before closing in February. All the $25 million that was pumped into it couldn’t save the place from itself. The bitterness that comes out in those comments on the South Florida blog seems to be the tone this closing took. The place eventually re-opened, as an “ultralounge” (barf) and nightclub, but we’re still including it in the fail-pile because, well, dang. Is the “Party With The Hiltons” ad still up? (Paris and Nikki dropped in Dec. 6 to no little fanfare) This place is trying as hard as they are.

Philadelphia saw the excruciatingly slow death-by-legal-struggle of one of its favorite cheese-steak joints, Rick’s Steaks, a Terminal Market staple since 1982. The conflict between proprietor Rick Olivieri and the market’s management board left no one with a good taste in their mouths. Oliveri led vendors in their resistance to higher rents and new, less-generous leases. When the landlords evicted him, in a move he characterized as retaliatory, he sued. Several years and about a million total dollars in legal fees later, Oliveri shuttered the venerable shop in October.

• Finally, Chicago gets the prize for most sordid, with the twisted tale of Sweet Occasions, a local chain that was dissolved by the state. Sweet’s management faces charges (some with greater basis in reality than others) of stiffing their vendors, stiffing their employees, embezzlement, prostitution, and violation of health codes. Wow. After the chain was dissolved, the owners re-opened as Sweet Thang, which soon also found itself in hot water and closed. Now employees there are claiming their checks bounced, and have been protesting the business demanding their pay.

So you thought you had it bad in 2008? We’re guessing any one of these restaurant owners would trade with you.

[Photo: Via Neatorama]

National: 2008 Fail Favorites