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Crime Jonathon Sawyer speaks: Chef says closure of acclaimed Greenhouse Tavern motivated by debt

16:30  07 february  2020
16:30  07 february  2020 Source:   cleveland.com

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Chef Jonathon Sawyer ’s culinary footprint on Cleveland will diminish this month after the surprise announcement that he will close the acclaimed Records from lawsuits and Sawyer said that debt snowballed into hundreds of thousands of dollars. The chef announced on social media Thursday that

Jonathon Sawyer , Chef /Owner of The Greenhouse Tavern & Noodlecat in Cleveland, Ohio, makes the Stoner Sandwich, one of the dishes from his appearance

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Chef Jonathon Sawyer’s culinary footprint on Cleveland will diminish this month after the surprise announcement that he will close the acclaimed Greenhouse Tavern, one of the city’s most popular and sought-after dining destinations.

a man cutting food on a table: Chef Jonathon Sawyer, seen here at the Mid-America Restaurant Expo in Columbus last month, is closing his popular Greenhouse Tavern restaurant in Cleveland.© Marc Bona, cleveland.com/cleveland.com/TNS Chef Jonathon Sawyer, seen here at the Mid-America Restaurant Expo in Columbus last month, is closing his popular Greenhouse Tavern restaurant in Cleveland.

Sawyer, in an interview Thursday with cleveland.com in which he discussed some of his company’s financial struggles, said the decision to shutter The Greenhouse Tavern was motivated by several factors, including the end of a lease and debt his companies have racked up in recent years. Records from lawsuits and Sawyer said that debt snowballed into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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A conversation with Chef Sawyer about food, family, fun and The Greenhouse Tavern . Made by Rasul K Welch rasulkwelch.com.

Chef Sawyer and Chef Freitag enjoying the crowd at The Greenhouse Tavern rooftop bar after a delicious tasting menu inspired by the fresh produce at The

The chef announced on social media Thursday that the East Fourth Street restaurant, which he opened in 2009, would close Feb. 16. The restaurant earned fans in Cleveland and around the country for its fresh, locally sourced and eclectic menu, as well as its urbane aesthetic.

The closure also comes soon after Esquire magazine designated The Greenhouse Tavern one of the most important restaurants of the past decade.

Sawyer said he doesn’t have any regrets.

“I’m not ashamed or embarrassed by anything I’ve done. I’ve always operated aboveboard, and put my employees and my farmers ahead of everyone, including myself,” he said. “And I’m thankful for everybody who’s dined with us, and everyone who has worked with us.”

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Chef Detox Diets. The Most Underrated Food Cities in the US. A Guide to Cleveland's Elegant Side. Jonathon Sawyer wins the Beard. The Greenhouse Tavern . 2038 East 4th Street , Cleveland, OH 44115.

Chef Jonathon Sawyer . Home. Contact.

Publicly, the chef gave no indication he would close the restaurant. In an interview with cleveland.com in November, he talked about plans to update the restaurant, saying: “Greenhouse has a renovation and a couple of small changes just to bring it into the next 10 years of its life.”

But the plan to close the restaurant was months in the making. The chef, who won the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef Great Lakes in 2015 and whose fame in Cleveland for his culinary prowess is topped only by fellow chefs Michael Symon and Zack Bruell, said he told his managers in December of his tentative plan to shut the tavern’s doors.

His staff learned the news this week. Sawyer said the restaurant “wasn’t the most profitable unit ever.”

“I mean, it was successful in that it was a place that a ton of people went to eat and a ton of people learned how to cook at,” Sawyer said.

Greenhouse is the latest restaurant that Sawyer has decided to shutter.

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Jonathon Sawyer at Greenhouse Tavern /All photos by Donna Turner Ruhlman. Have a look at her Greenhouse Tavern gallery on her site. I recommend arriving at The Greenhouse around When we moved to Cleveland we happened upon Chef Sawyer when he was at Bar Cento (a write up on his

The Greenhouse Tavern . TEAM SAWYER RESTAURANTS is the restaurant group of James Beard Award Winning Chef Jonathon Sawyer . Team Sawyer is our all encompassing food family that includes 6 restaurants located in Cleveland, Ohio.

Trentina, a high-end University Circle spot that blended influences from Northern Italy, Germany and France, closed in January 2019. Sawyer also closed his Ramen shop Noodlecat, which he opened in downtown Cleveland in 2011 before moving it to Crocker Park in Westlake in 2017, last month.

That leaves Sawyer’s in the Van Aken District, which bears his name but is operated by Forward Hospitality Group, and spots in RocketMortgage FieldHouse and FirstEnergy Stadium.

Sawyer said he decided to end Trentina because the lease was up for the space “and it didn’t make sense to renew it.”

Noodlecat, however, closed because of the revenue couldn’t cover operating costs, let alone outstanding debt, the chef explained. Those problems were exacerbated by issues with a contractor he hired to work on the space, as the work was repeatedly delayed and subcontractors went unpaid, Sawyer said.

The restaurant sued the contractor, Atrium Group, in 2017 and later reached a settlement. However, Sawyer said the associated problems and missed payments to subcontractors drove up costs and that his company worked to pay subcontractors.

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Atrium Group owner William Mangelluzzi noted that the settlement is subject to a confidentiality agreement but said he had worked for Sawyer on other projects and didn’t get paid.

However, court records show that Sawyer’s financial issues went beyond problems with Noodlecat. Either he or his entities were named in lawsuits several times since 2014, with companies, contractors and lenders alleging his companies hadn’t paid their bills, missed a loan payment or didn’t pay employees a promised bonus.

Sawyer had explanations for all of the lawsuits he faced. He characterized a lawsuit by his brother Jesse, an early Greenhouse investor, and a business partner as “a power play by them to get bought out.” The lawsuit, first filed in 2014 and later amended, said that Greenhouse, Sawyer and others had “misappropriated or diverted funds or assets." They demanded access to the restaurant’s financial records and damages.

The chef said his brother had access to the books and that the suit settled.

Another lawsuit filed by a former Greenhouse general manager in 2016 accused Sawyer’s company of not paying a bonus promised to him. Sawyer described him as a “disgruntled former employee” and said the suit was settled.

And he described a lawsuit filed in December by the owner of the Crocker Park space where he operated Noodlecat, which accused the restaurant of breaching its lease, as a dispute over the restaurant’s own attempt to terminate the lease for breach of contract. That lawsuit is ongoing, and an attorney representing the landlord, Promenade Delaware LLC, did not respond to a voicemail and email.

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What is clear, however, is that Sawyer’s culinary footprint on Cleveland receded while he and his company’s debt grew. It got so big that he, his wife Amelia and his company Team Sawyer now have liens against them worth more than $571,000.

Records from Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court show that the company and the Sawyers in 2017 secured a $600,000 revolving credit loan from Chemical Bank. Greenhouse guaranteed payment of all money due on the loan and Team Sawyer and the Sawyers were required to pay off the loan over five years starting in November 2018.

The companies and Sawyers did not pay any money after that date, though, and defaulted what they drew from the loan. They admitted in court filings that they owed the money, and a judge in August issued a judgment ordering them to pay the owed amount, plus 7.25-percent interest. The judgment was also reduced to a lien in Geauga County, as the Sawyers live in Bainbridge Township.

Sawyer said the loan and eventual lien was a result of debts accumulated from all three of his restaurants, and that they were forced to consolidate previous loans to obtain a new loan from Chemical Bank.

Some of that came from buying out his brother and his business partner’s shares, he said. As for defaulting on the loan, he gave a simple answer.

“We just didn't have enough money to pay it,” he said.

Sawyer said he doesn’t know what’s next in terms of his footprint in the local restaurant business.

“The future is unknown for us,” he said, later adding that. “My goal was to take care of what’s in front of us right now.”

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Reporters Marc Bona and Anne Nickoloff contributed to this story.

Read more:

The Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland is closing this month

Cleveland restaurant lands on national list of decade’s 40 most important restaurants

Sawyer’s fires up in Van Aken District: Q&A with Chef Jonathon Sawyer

Noodlecat closes in Crocker Park

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Cleveland chef Jonathon Sawyer wins James Beard Best Chef Great Lakes Award

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