Chef and restaurateur Matthew Kenney has lost control of his Miami restaurant Plant Food + Wine and is being sued by his landlord for more than $1.4 million, according to a July 15 report in The Miami Herald.
The restaurant’s landlord, Karla Dascal, owner of The Sacred Space where the restaurant is located, took control of Plant Food + Wine on July 1 and retained most of the staff, including chef de cuisine Horacio Rivadero, the report said. A related culinary school next door to the restaurant has closed.
In a lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade County 11th District Circuit Court in March, Dascal said Kenney’s company owed $1.4 million in unpaid rent for the remainder of the five-year lease and $98,124 in sales tax, plus attorney’s fees and other expenses.
The complaint also charged Kenney with violating a non-compete clause by opening Plnthouse at the 1 Hotel in Miami, although that restaurant is a licensed location.
In a statement posted on Facebook, Kenney described the Plant Food + Wine in Miami as a “dream project,” and a beautiful facility of which he is proud.
“Unfortunately, the economics of the location were deeply flawed from the outset for us,” he said. “Not long before taking possession, we were presented with a lease that included above-market base rent, steep royalty payments, CAM (common area maintenance) charges, valet fees and other up charges. Despite numerous attempts to negotiate it to something more reasonable, we were given an ultimatum to take it or leave it and I took it, against the advice of my inner circle.”
Kenney continued that his inner circle was correct.
Though the restaurant was reviewed well and “blossomed,” he said, the company was paying close to $60,000 per month to the landlord, losing as much as $30,000 per month.
“By the end of 2016, we had invested an enormous sum into the project just to keep it going,” he said.
This year, it became clear the landlord wanted to take control of the property, he said. But Kenney noted that his company continues to seek an amicable resolution.
Although the landlord claims to have taken over control of the restaurant, Kenney said the company has not forfeited the lease and still hold many of the restaurant’s licenses, permits and intellectual property.
The Herald report described the recent dispute over Plant Food + Wine as one in a string of legal challenges that has plagued Kenney since he filed for bankruptcy in 2004.
On Facebook, Kenney said he has long been candid about “the tremendous hurdles I have faced trying to build a new type of business for the plant-based market.”
Kenney argued the company faces only one active legal case, besides the dispute with Sacred Space in Miami, stemming from a financial issue in 2014.
“The reality is, we have grown aggressively and have made many mistakes, but also operate a brand with tremendous vitality, innovation and passion,” he wrote. “We opened a restaurant in London last week, and another will open in California in August. All of our independent restaurants are profitable and our gorgeous new book is at the printer now.”
Kenney operates another location of Plant Food + Wine in Los Angeles, as well as the fast-casual Make Out and the licensed Matthew Kenney NM in Beverly Hills, Calif. In New York, Kenney’s group operates the vegan pizza concept Double Zero. In addition to the licensed Plnthouse, the group includes Plant Café in Bahrain, operated with a local partner.
Earlier this year, Kenney told Restaurant Hospitality he planned a new concept called Oliver’s in Montecito, Calif., which is scheduled to open in August. He also opened the restaurant Essence in London last week.
In an interview in April, Kenney described growing his plant-based empire under the umbrella Plantlab, which at the time included the restaurants, wellness programs, retail products and culinary schools around the world.
Sales were expected to top $20 million in 2017 and double that next year, he said.
But, according to the Herald, Kenney later sold assets to the culinary academy to Adam Zucker, the group’s former chief operating officer and now CEO of PlantLab, the educational arm.
Caught in the transition were students who had paid for tuition and travel expenses to attend programs that had been cancelled.
Zucker confirmed the sale, saying the culinary academy is under a separate company called Plantlab and no longer associated with Matthew Kenney Cuisine. While Plantlab is working to accommodate the students, he blamed the owner of Sacred Space for not allowing planned courses to go on in Miami. “Sacred Space’s owner interfered with the new Plantlab Culinary Academy’s ability to conduct all the courses and to fulfill their obligations,” he said through a spokesman.
Kenney conceded that there are challenges ahead.
“I still have to work tirelessly on a daily basis to correct all of the mistakes I’ve made,” he wrote on Facebook. “However, one thing I have 100 percent confidence in is the quality of the work we do. Our team puts out incredible plant-based food across the globe and is making the impact I have always dreamed they would. We also have tremendous momentum, growth prospects and a company that is full of energy and love for what we do.
“The reality is, the negative press does bring us down a bit,” he said, “but it will never knock us out.”
Update, July 19, 2017: This story has been updated with new information from Adam Zucker of Plantlab.
Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]
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