The restaurant business is an evil and pernicious mistress some days. The suits who own Five Restaurant & Street Lounge notified Heidi and Stewart Woodman on Tuesday, October 24, that they are no longer employed by the company that owns the restaurant.
Not only was Five one of the better restaurants in town, Food & Wine Magazine recently named Stewart one of the Top Ten Best New Chefs in America. The restaurant was also featured in Travel & Leisure Magazine and many other publications. In addition to great food press they have had, according to an e-mail Stewart sent me, the Woodmans have also been in conversations with a national TV show on which they would provide a cooking segment. The goose was hanging high, wasn't it???
Look, there were problems that many of us saw from a mile away when the restaurant opened, from design issues to multiple rooms within the same complex with different hours of operation and end use . . . all of which are tough issues to overcome, but Stewart and his wife are two of the most talented food people in the five-state region. As an owner, you have to figure out a way to work with the talent. And ownership has always been very clear on the Woodmans' extremely personal and almost religious approach to using only the best ingredients, staff, and equipment. And that ain't cheap to do. But the Woodmans are not shy about their take on their own craft! So survival tactic or not, having the ownership retool the expectations and the ground rules is their prerogative, but the onus was on them to create a template for everyone to work and be happy with a concept, not to create a situation where you are forced to evict your star player! Over the last few months, business had slowed (you could see it if you stopped into the dining room on a weekday) and the recent e-mails from the restaurant's GM touting drink specials and a new, reworked bar always spell trouble to me, but this is shocking. Unless there is something I don't know, which could be the case. Stay tuned.
The Woodmans' official first comment came in my e-box this morning . . . They view the announcement of their "departure from 'Five' as a fantastic opportunity to look at a number of possible new ventures." They are right. Five's ownership is who's in real trouble. The best thing about Five were Stewart and Heidi.
What's your take? Anyone been there recently? Any thoughts on how or why, on the first anniversary of the restaurant's birth, you would toss the baby out with the bath water—and who will be Five's new customer!!?!?!?!?!?!?