The Reluctant Chef, along with its various internal entities (The Vinyl Room, The Brasserie) is at an end. It is a quiet snowy morning before Valentine’s Day, and I am sitting with the owner/creator Anthony Butt by the upstairs windows on the second floor.
I am trying to remain sympathetic while coming to terms with the realization that I will never get to eat or drink here again. It is a loss for me, a loss for the recently bolstered metropolitan dining scene in St. John’s. But it does not, at least this morning, feel like a loss to Tony.
“I could have carried on. I had money … and marketing lined up, but I would have had to do what I’ve been doing for the last year and a half: the hours and time and work
“I could have carried on. I had money … and marketing lined up, but I would have had to do what I’ve been doing for the last year and a half: the hours and time and work … I did it last winter. I could have done that again, and I almost did. Then I stopped for a second and I think I really started to think about my health.”
He pauses and drinks from his to go cup of Jumping Bean coffee. “I don’t sleep any more, [not] decently; one hour, and then [I’m] awake and then two hours. That’s the worst thing you can do for your health and that wasn’t going to change.”
He is wearing a handsome grey and brown striped scarf, his hair looks like a Ralph Lauren ad and he appears, from the outside, relaxed.
But he isn’t. Not yet.
Once he realized that he wanted to close, “I had to figure out how I was gonna get out.” He saw three options:
- Shut the doors and put out a release: “The Reluctant Chef is closed.” Given his exhaustion, this was appealing.
- Try to find a buyer/managing investor so he could sell all/part of the business and step away from the day-to-day.
- Announce the closing but give a month’s warning. This would allow everyone with gift certificates a chance to cash in, but it was a big financial risk. Could he survive another month without borrowing?
He woke up one Friday and decided to simply close and lay everyone off, but as the weekend wore on, he just couldn’t do it. So he sent out his one month warning. He hoped the announcement would garner enough press to give him a little bump in sales for immediate operating capital.
What happened far exceeded his expectations. Many people, it turns out, feel like me about this place, and wanted to get in a last meal. Many more realized they shouldn’t have waited so long to try the “new” place with the rave reviews. He had to shut down his online reservation system which was overwhelmed with the incoming requests.
“It has been a roller coaster for the last few weeks, well, for the last year and a half, but the last two weeks every day is a different day. One day I’m in a really good mood, another I’m in the dumps, today I’m just like, what am I going to do? Is this going to work? The uncertainty is more present today.”