Three-month-old Castro area restaurant Cook Shoppe is already dunzo, and the unfolding story behind it is totally nuts. The owner of record, Mark White, has apparently been using an alias, and someone he opened the restaurant with is in jail now.
Cook Shoppe remains open until Monday, but it is not serving beer or wine anymore, and White tells Hoodline that all of the staff is getting laid off and the restaurant will pivot into a fast-casual concept in three to four weeks.
I'll say I found it very odd when a man named Mark White snapped up both the recently shuttered Chow space and the former Crepevine across the street, claimed to have owned four restaurants in New York City, and yet refused to name what those restaurants were. But I gave him the benefit of the doubt, and went to check out Cook Shoppe when it opened in May. I dined there twice, and the food was actually not bad — though the menu and the pricing lacked the cozy charm and affordability of Chow.
White reopened the restaurant as Cook Shoppe just two months after Chow's abrupt closure in March, initially saying he wanted to "save a neighborhood restaurant that everybody loves."
Well, he or his partners did so without properly transferring Chow's liquor license, as Hoodline is now reporting, and yet the restaurant has been serving beer and wine since its first day. White says this was due to a "misunderstanding" in how the state's alcohol licensing works — some restaurants get temporary permits while transfers are being processed — but no such permit had been granted here. Also, it seems, the restaurant had been allowing patrons to bring in their own beer, wine, and liquor, which is also verboten. As a result, one of the restaurant's owners, 29-year-old Lawrence Tonner, is sitting in SF County Jail — but the liquor license situation may not even be the primary reason for his arrest.
White is now saying he was a passive investor in the restaurant, and had put up $75,000 to help get it open. He also tells Hoodline he regrets "putting my neck out on the line for someone else."
In looking up Tonner's booking record in County Jail records, SFist finds that his August 16 arrest was for being a fugitive with a felony charge. Hoodline noted, via public records, that Tonner has a 2012 felony conviction in New York for second-degree burglary, grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen goods, and just got out of prison in December 2014. Tonner's name then popped up in a March 2015 news story — alongside the hilariously fake-named Siro De Medici — on Page Six when he was allegedly promoting a charity concert for “disadvantaged youth” at Grand Central Station headlined by Lady Gaga and Elton John. (Neither star knew anything about the planned concert, and Tonner later back-pedaled when he got called out.)
It's unclear what further charges may have been filed against Tonner, but there was evidently a warrant for his arrest.
But it gets odder: City officials also say that White has posed as Tonner in meetings with them, and there's a third party allegedly involved in the Cook Shoppe business named John Di Iorio — but at this point, it's hard to say who's who. Di Iorio's is the only name on the now withdrawn liquor license application for Cook Shoppe.
White admits that he's using an alias, and he continues to tell Hoodline that his other project, the oddly New York-ily named Gramercy Park restaurant, is still moving forward in the Crepevine space at 216 Church Street — Hoodline also snapped a pic of the gutted space where construction does not look active, and where all of Cook Shoppe's beer and wine stock is now being stored.
White tells Eater that he's "thoroughly embarrassed" by the situation, but says that Di Iorio (who allegedly spends 70 percent of his time in New York) will be retaining the leases on the three spaces, which include a planned "Gramercy To-Go" spot across from Cook Shoppe.
It's really anyone's guess where this story goes from here, if a fast-casual restaurant actually will materialize in the former Chow, or if anything will actually happen in the Crepevine space in the near future.
And none of this great news for the Castro's ongoing epidemic of retail and restaurant vacancies.