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Getting Both Sides of the Mado Saga - Brandon Baltzley

By Anthony Todd in Food on Dec 14, 2010 5:00PM

MadoPigboard - Gone.JPG Last week, Chicago magazine spoke to Brandon Baltzley, the former chef of Mado (who left the restaurant last week) and David Richards, the owner of the restaurant, about the circumstances surrounding all of the goings-on at the restaurant. We published part of the story last week, but we wanted more details, and contacted both Baltzley and Richards for more details on the story. Below is an edited transcript of our recorded conversation with Chef Baltzley. We'll present Richards's side of the story tomorrow this afternoon.

Chicagoist - We read your interview with Penny [Pollack] in Chicago magazine, which I think was the last published “straw” in this argument. Have your plans to buy the restaurant moved forward?

BB - We’re supposed to hear about our proposal today, but based on new information, I don’t think we’re going to go with Mado - we need to find our own space.

Chicagoist - Given the drama, that makes some sense! So, forgive our bluntness - What the hell happened at Mado?

BB - I found out some crazy stuff. I found out that we had been operating under an expired business license since I was hired. The reason for that is that he (Richards) owes a large amount in back taxes, which is why he’s opening his new restaurant in the suburbs.

Chicagoist - You only found this out later?

BB - I found this out two days ago.

Chicagoist - So that had nothing to do with the decision?

BB - No, that just added onto it. The decision to leave was this: Me and the general manager found out that David was taking money we made to go the new restaurant. We weren’t making great money or anything, but we were breaking even after payroll, after purchasing.

Chicagoist - In the midst of the changeover, breaking even sounds like a reasonable goal.

BB - It’s a reasonable goal to break even in the first year. I read that Per Se grossed 80 dollars at the end of their first year, and they thought that was amazing. You don’t make money. When I say make money, I mean everyone is getting paid, but the owners are not going to profit for at least 5 years; that’s how the industry is. I think he was just buying time.

BB - He doesn’t care about his employees. I had a really good crew working for me - they literally worked 18 hours a day, six days a week, and on our one day off we came for at least 8 hours. I was making decent money, but all of my cooks were making shit money, and he wanted to fire two of them. But then he realized his unemployment insurance was going to go up, so let’s not fire them, let’s only give them a few hours a week at $8.50 an hour.

Chicagoist - In the initial piece that came out (on Eater Chicago) the story was that he had told you to fire the staff, and you had walked out.

BB - People pick and choose what they write. What happened was this: We had been discussing cost cuts, but it was all discussion - I was fighting against it, because I knew we were breaking even. Obviously, he wanted to cut costs. I had two dishwashers and three cooks, and then me. That was the staff. I was going to fire one dishwasher, that was our agreement, and then going to replace one of our cooks. That was the agreement that we had before I missed a couple days of work. I got a call telling me that I had to fire two cooks and that I could only bring in a dishwasher on a night when I was serving more than 35 people. He wanted me and my sous chef - who is still in culinary school! He goes to school from 5a.m. to 11a.m., and then he works for me from noon to 1a.m. David wanted him and me to run Mado.

Chicagoist - Including washing the dishes?

BB - Yes. Everything.

Chicagoist - That’s a lot to ask.

BB - Yes. And coupled with that, that same day when all that shit went down, we had a meat delivery show up. They had quit accepting checks from us, because every check we had given them had bounced since I took over. We were on a COD basis, but he [Richards] couldn’t make it to the restaurant with $128 to get our meat. His exact words were, “You’re a chef, make it work.” So, that amount of obliviousness - I don’t know if he was delusional, or just didn’t care, or didn’t know what we did there.

BB - He had no problem with the food. What he had a problem with was the labor, the food costs. He fudged his story with Penny. He fed her labor costs of 50% or something, that is ridiculous. A lot of the things in his interview are just plain wrong. He said I was sick during Thanksgiving when we pulled the numbers, which is totally false, I was sick last week. We pulled the numbers from the day we reopened.

Chicagoist - Let’s talk about the new stuff - the dinner, and the future space, things that we can eat, rather than drama. You are doing a dinner at Delicious on Friday?

BB - I think it's great. When my sous-chef told me about this spot, I went to the website and immediately started laughing. The place looks ridiculous. It’s a really strange spot - red chairs, black tables. It looks like a cross between a fast food restaurant in Japan and a shitty hipster hotel. It’s really cool, because we’re gonna milk it up - we’re not bringing in any special plates, just tablecloths. We’re doing it for a very good price, we’re not making any money off of this at all. We are putting our profit back into the food costs so we can provide people a great meal and that they get their $50 worth. It says 5 courses, but we’re going to do a few extra. The future dinners will be more expensive.

Chicagoist - Are you planning on opening a new spot soon?

BB - Yes, we are. It’s seeming like it will take more time than expected. We don’t have time to build - we’re looking for a turnkey operation. We’re not rich, we’re doing these pop-up dinners to make ends meet, and because we like working together. I could go get an executive chef’s job at whatever restaurant, but I couldn’t bring my staff with me.

For more information about Chef Baltzley's dinner on Friday night at Delicious, call 773-914-2622. The five course meal will be $50, and there will be seatings at 6 and 9 PM. Courses will include Thai curried pork belly, a Cuban cigar panna cotta with scotch caramel, and a homemade pumpkin soda shooter with jalapeno gel.