The widely reported story about Modern Restaurant + Bar closing during busy Buckhead Restaurant Week has it that chef Mark Alba and newly hired general manager Philippe Haddad suddenly walked off the job, with kitchen staff and servers following behind.
But that isn’t completely accurate, according to Alba and Haddad.
“I want to make sure that Mark and I are clean with this,” Haddad said during a phone call this afternoon. “There was no such thing that we took away staff. There was no such thing that we resigned in the middle of service.”
“We had nothing to do with the restaurant going down,” said Haddad, a Belgian-born chef known for his stints at the Abbey and Philippe’s Bistro. “I got on-board a sinking ship, tried to plug a hole, and the hole was much bigger than I expected.”
In another phone call, Alba put the blame for the closing squarely on the shoulders of managing partner Kane Xu of Eastwood Restaurant Group, and reported that Modern had been in serious financial difficulty for months.
“I got some clearance from my attorneys,” Alba said by way of explaining why he wanted to go on the record now. “Philippe and I just want people to know the truth. Philippe and I both respectfully resigned. That’s pretty much it.”
Alba’s resume includes positions at Canoe, Spice, Eno and Paces 88. More recently, he’d opened a catering business and was working as a personal chef, before being hired as the executive chef at Modern — a sprawling, glittery 12,000 square-foot Buckhead space, with a 125-seat bar, 250-seat main dining room, 60-seat patio, and three private dining rooms.
“Basically, what happened was a really long story,” Alba said. “There were three investors, all from Connecticut. They spent close to two years building it out, and put millions of dollars into this restaurant.”
And then the problems…
“Everything was going well,” Alba said. “We opened in October. Things were fine. Business was good. And then the problems started… I would notify Kane that the vendors needed payment. We’re two weeks past due. We’re a month past due. We’re two months past due. We’re 90 days past due. When I left, we were in deep with produce, meat, seafood vendors. And employees checks were bouncing.”
“Philippe Haddad was brought on-board as director of operations and general manager to really get the finances in order,” Alba said. “He was doing a bang-up job. He was really making things happen. Kane was asked by the other partners to become a silent partner, and take himself out of the equation, and let myself and Philippe do the job. And we were. That lasted about a couple weeks, and then Kane came back and turned the entire place upside down in four days.”
And then more problems…
“We had to call the police to get our second-to-last paycheck,” Alba said. “I’d say 60-percent of the entire staff did not get that second-to-last paycheck, and no one has gotten a final paycheck. There’s unpaid rent. There’s a lien on the property. There’s a lawsuit from the design and construction company.”
“It really is a big mess,” Alba said. “What I thought was going to be a awesome venue was mismanaged. You have all this nonsense out there about this restaurant reopening. I don’t see it happening. We had more interest around the closing than around the opening. I guess that’s how things are now. People love drama.”
And Kane Xu’s version…
Contacted by phone this afternoon, Kane Xu had his own version of the messy Modern divorce drama, doing a little trash talking, while confirming that Alba and Haddad are no longer part of the team, and promising that the restaurant would reopen soon.
“The kitchen could not produce the food so we decided on a change,” Xu said. “We will change to a different menu, a bigger menu, with more options and lower prices. And we will reorganize the management. Hopefully we will reopen in a few weeks.”
— Bob Townsend, AJC Food and More blog.