Here's a brief update on the Hapa Ramen upheaval story which rocked the local food world over the weekend. While chef Richie Nakano gave more of his side of the story yesterday to the Bold Italic, suggesting most if not all of the staff had been let go when he was, owner Owen Van Natta and director of operations Deborah Blum issued a statement, published shortly thereafter on Inside Scoop, clarifying the facts from their end. The biggest apparent misconception: Nakano was not fired, and all but two line cooks remain on the payroll.
Also, they are quick to insist that Nakano "was an employee, not an owner," and whatever ownership stake he had he earlier implied to Inside Scoop that he had a small one he apparently sold to Van Natta for $20,000 last year, in exchange for being named executive chef and receiving an "above-market salary and full health benefits."
They also clarify that Nakano signed an agreement to help manage food labor costs, and that in the restaurant's first four months those had been "consistently over budget" and "twice the industry standard." Whether or not that was the case would probably probably require an independent audit, but the statement goes further to say, "Nakano was not expected to make Hapa profitable in the course of four months’ time; the critical issue is that he refused to cooperate with management to acknowledge and remedy financial concerns and work with stakeholders to put Hapa on track toward profitability."
They say, "Nakano was not fired. He presented a list of demands and told the owners that if they did not agree to these conditions, he would quit." And they clarify that some of Hapa Ramen's staff is indeed in the kitchen today "doing prep work for a tasting related to the concept that will replace Hapa."
Nakano continues to insist he was forcibly pushed out, and "they did not want me working there any longer."
Meanwhile, local food scribe John Birdsall (among others) has been defending Nakano's choice to "sell out," and pushing back against any claims that Nakano's rebuttal of Michael Bauer's review had anything to do with this situation.
Anybody who blames a chef's tweets about Bauer needs to wake up and see what people with capital are doing to the city we have built— John Birdsall (@John_Birdsall) March 31, 2015
City of Harvey Milk and Judy Rodgers, Ruth Asawa and the Tamale Lady, the original CUESA farmers market and Alemany.— John Birdsall (@John_Birdsall) March 31, 2015