Where’s David Burke? Not at the Aspen Kitchen
January 12, 2016
For all of the hype and buzz surrounding an Aspen restaurant that also was the center of local litigation, there might be a bit of confusion, as well.
What is now called the Aspen Kitchen was referred to as the David Burke Kitchen in promotional materials and by the media as recently as November. But the celebrity chef's name was quietly removed from the moniker last month.
Burke, in a telephone interview last week, said he has no culinary ties to the Aspen Kitchen, which had a soft opening last month. Its grand opening is scheduled Wednesday.
"They had plenty of time to change the name," Burke said in a telephone interview last week. "And I just want to convey the message that I am not involved. I do not work with the group, and I think that it's misleading to the public."
Burke, however, remains an equity shareholder in the David Burke Group, which manages the new Aspen restaurant as well as others throughout the U.S.
The Aspen restaurant had been scheduled to open in May 2014. But disputes with contractors, as well as an eviction lawsuit by Mark Hunt, who redeveloped the property at 204 S. Galena St. where the Aspen Kitchen now resides on the top floor, partly led to Burke's resignation from the David Burke Group in May 2014. The litigation in Pitkin County District Court was settled in August.
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"When the Aspen lease ran into all of those headaches and problems with the builder and landlord, I got out," he said.
The Aspen Kitchen's public-relations firm refers to the eatery as the "Aspen Kitchen by David Burke Group."
"That is a legitimate business name," Burke said, but he added, "I still think it's kind of confusing."
David Burke Group CEO Stephen Goglia said Friday, "There's nothing in the building that refers to David. Obviously there's a lot of David's DNA in the company, and he's still a shareholder."
Goglia said when Burke was managing director of the David Burke Group, "he wanted the property to be called David Burke Kitchen. It was promoted that way when we signed the lease. We hired a PR firm that took it to the Aspen community and said, 'We're opening a David Burke Kitchen in Aspen.' But upon his resignation, we decided to call it the Aspen Kitchen."
Promotional materials that came out in November, however, touted the opening of the Rec Room basement lounge, also managed by the David Burke Group, as "steps beneath Aspen's hottest restaurant set to open next month, David Burke Kitchen."
In any case, Goglia said the Aspen Kitchen is being led by chef Matthew O'Neill, once the executive chef at the Ajax Tavern and a current shareholder with the David Burke Group.
"We're excited to be part of the community," Goglia said. "Matt is a fantastic chef, and we've hired about 100 people."
Goglia said the fallout with Burke two years ago is "like any divorce."
"There are chapters to it, but it's not a concern for us," he said. "We're not trying to fake out anybody. We think we have a prized restaurant, a quality restaurant that we've brought to the Aspen community, and we are so excited about it. We're not trying to provide any murkiness."
Burke and Goglia said the parties' differences are being addressed in litigation outside Aspen.
"We're in a dispute, and there are some things we can't talk about," Goglia said.
Said Burke: "We're in litigation at this point. It's in New York, and that's all I can say."
In October, ny.eater.com reported that Burke once had 50 percent ownership in Watershed Ventures LLC, a holding group under the David Burke Group. After Burke left, he became a partner with ESquared Hospitality, which owns The Wayfarer restaurant in New York. The David Burke Group later sued The Wayfarer's former chef, Chris Shea, for allegedly recruiting employees away from the company.
Apparently there was confusion then as well about the Burke name, prompting ESquared to issue the following statement: "David Burke is not suing Chris Shea and had no involvement in the decision to commence an action. Mr. Burke and Mr. Shea are friends and peers. 'The Watershed Group,' which is improperly holding itself out as the 'David Burke Group,' initiated the baseless lawsuit against Chris Shea and continues to mislead the public through the improper use of David Burke's name. Mr. Burke resigned from The Watershed Group in May 2014. We believe the The Watershed Group should be more concerned about why these employees are leaving rather than where they are going."