Louisville Magazine

MAR 2012

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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and clamorous space for macaroni and cheese, beef dry-aged and butch- ered in-house, Brussels sprouts. "I thought Jayson was an excellent chef," Rosen says. "Maybe the best mussels I've ever eaten." A huge draw was the bartenders, who invented cocktails with homemade syrups and bitters and formed their own shards and spheres of ice. "Packed from the time the doors opened until the time we shut down," says Jason Tedesco, who worked with Lewellyn at the Marriott and Jeff Ruby's before becoming a sous chef at Social. To reflect its attitude — "like eating at my house," Lewellyn says — the phone went unanswered during service hours. "I probably shouldn't put this on tape, but there's a lot of mediocrity here in the dining scene," Lewellyn says. "With Social, I never wanted it to make money. I wanted it to break even, keep it afloat. Tis was about craftsmanship. We authentically prepared food the way it was meant to be prepared." He says each dish they sold of macaroni and cheese, studded with rock shrimp, lost Social a dollar. "Maybe it will be like the Velvet Underground of 21st century Louisville restaurants." — Gill Holland "When everything was good I really enjoyed it there," says Larry Rice, who worked at Basa before becoming one of two guys who started Social's bar program. "Early on, way before the public knew what was going on, the Tons and Jayson just didn't get along." Lewellyn believes the concept for Social was his and had been breeding in his brain since 2004, when his mother told him she didn't like eating at the froufrou restaurants where he had worked; the Tons insist it was their idea and declined to get into any specifics about Social. "We've been asked about it, numerous times, but we don't really talk about it," Steven Ton says. "We just tell people that it's public record." Regarding the Tons, Lewellyn says that by the time Social opened, "Tey meant nothing to me." Much of this surfaced when Lewellyn filed a still-unsettled lawsuit against the Tons (Holland was added later) in May 2010. ("Needless to say, my counsel is not happy that I'm talking," Lewellyn says. "Tey want me to live under a rock, but the community has a right to know the truth.") He says he and the Tons each agreed in 2008 to contribute $25,000 to the project, which the Tons have denied in court. Because Lewellyn con- tributed his $25,000 and the brothers did not, he says, he then had to use his own credit card and money to get Social off the ground. ("I have huge financial resources that stay hidden," he says.) Te same suit mentions un- documented cash withdrawals and second checkbooks and alleges the Tons weren't performing the tasks they had agreed to do, though they deny that any such agreement ever existed. Tough Lewellyn says he's "never been in love with seeing my name in lights," his suit alleges that the Tons made "significant, repeated misrepresentations to various media outlets regarding their involvement" and failed to give Lewellyn credit for the restaurant's "appeal or success" or even acknowledge him as an owner. In the court documents, the Tons deny all of this and say that they at- tempted to talk to Lewellyn about a withdrawal from Social's business ac- count, and by June 2009, when he refused to discuss it, "all direct commu- nications between the parties ceased." Tey do admit that they attempted, through their counsel, to terminate Lewellyn as an employee. In August 2009, according to a criminal complaint filed by Steven Ton, Lewellyn left a message for Ton saying, "I'm coming to get you." Te same complaint says Ton feared what Lewellyn might do. In February the fol- lowing year, another complaint filed by Ton says Lewellyn threw beer in Ton's face at Flanagan's Ale House. Tat complaint says that Lewellyn sent Ton this text message: "you and I are going to cross paths very soon and I promise you it won't be pretty." Lewellyn pleaded guilty to harassment. According to court documents, Steven Ton says he was officially done in August 2009, not even six months after Social opened, and had "checked out about two months prior to that. I wasn't even there." [48] LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 3.12 Holland tried to mediate. "But at some point," he says, "it makes sense to part ways." Eventually, the Tons accepted $50,000 from Lewellyn (a loan from Holland that Lewellyn paid back), which ultimately put Social in Lewellyn's name by 2010, the first time he'd ever owned a restaurant. "Jayson, he'd be a tough person to be friendly with," says Rice, who started 732 Social's bar program. "Tere's no way to be polite about it: He's emotionally sporadic and chaotic." Tedesco says he's never had a problem with Lewellyn. "As a boss, he's quite difficult because he has his ways of wanting things done," Tedesco says. Adriane Hall, who became Social's general manager in the fall of 2010, says he "definitely pushes people he believes in and ignites a passion in them." Adam Burress — now one of two chef-owners at Hammerheads (some of the wooden planks used as plates are from Social, a gift from Lewellyn) — followed Lewellyn from the Marriott's BLU Italian Grille to Jeff Ruby's. In the kitchen, Burress says, it always felt like somebody was looking over his shoulder. "He's a very intense dude, scared a lot of people away," Burress says. "Sometimes you'd put a dish in the window, and he'd throw it on the floor. To stay out of that warpath, you had to stay on point. It made me a better chef." At Social, Lewellyn says, "I had my moments. I said, 'No matter what, I'm not going to put my foot down unless I have to, but if I have to, it's going to get ugly.'" Te food counter, he says, became the best seat in the house, especially when he was bored on a rare slow night. "I asked people, 'What have you not eaten in your life? Let's grow together,'" he says. "Tat was my medium. Tat was my church." I n December 2010, Holland's attorneys sent Lewellyn a letter instruct- ing him to immediately vacate the premises because, according to court documents, the tenant had started to fall behind in rent early in the year and stopped paying entirely that July, save a partial September payment. As a "strategic move," Lewellyn says, 732 Social filed for bankruptcy in federal court in May 2011, after a district court judge concluded "there is no enforceable written lease agreement between the parties." In the bankruptcy documents, Holland says there were times he received rent by credit card and that, at one point, he was paying the salaries of the restaurant employees just to keep the doors open. In 2010, according to the documents, the restaurant lost about $30,000. In those same docu- ments, an attorney asks Lewellyn if there's a reason Social isn't making any money. "Oh," Lewellyn replies, "there's probably a million different reasons why we're not making money." In addition to the civil-suit allegations, Lewellyn tells Louisville Magazine that legal fees were also a financial hard- ship for the restaurant and that a faulty HVAC system — not to mention negative press — cost him business. Holland says, "It always seemed like there were a lot of people down there to me." Tere was also the controversy about whether or not Lewellyn even had a lease. Te Tons had signed one in 2008 and later, after they were out of the picture, there was a restructured lease Lewellyn signed in 2009 that Holland never put a signature on. Te words "sordid mess" came up three times during an evidentiary hearing. In the bankruptcy documents, when asked why he didn't sign the one in 2009, Holland says, "No idea," adding that "whatever validity an unsigned document has is what that document has." Tere's also an alcoholic beverage license containing Holland's sig- nature, which he says is a forgery. According to court documents, a hand- writing expert who examined the signature for Holland says that's "very highly probable." In the court documents, Lewellyn says he remembers being with Holland at the bank when they signed it. Meanwhile, at the restaurant, sometimes Lewellyn's co-workers told their stressed-out boss just to go home. "Te staff knew how to react if he was in an unfavorable mood," Hall says. "We had his back." Lewellyn says his anger was starting to manifest itself on the plates. "Tere was a lot of time he wasn't there," Tedesco says. "He didn't need to be there for that kitchen to run." In the Green Building, Lewellyn's office was on the same floor as Holland's. Lewellyn says they didn't talk; Holland says, "We each let our lawyers deal with everything and were very polite." In late August during an evidentiary hearing, the bankruptcy judge agreed with what the district court had determined: Tere was no written lease. Social's end came not long after. It closed last September. "I lost a lot of me in that process. Holland's attorneys — the Brown family monarchy

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