Nine months after opening Baume & Brix, Ben Roche has left his position as co-executive chef (shared with Thomas Bowman). Roche, who had previously been at Moto and iNG along with Bowman and Chef de Cuisine Nate Park, stated that two months of inconsistent/non-existent pay is the reason for his exit. He left his position at the end of service this past Friday night.
"We (he and Bowman) would get paid here and not there and then it would be it's gonna be a couple of weeks before we get paid again. We just never knew," Roche said. "The most frustrating thing about that was we would try and call somebody, no one really wants to talk about it, no one seems to know. They (owners Jeff Krogh and Steve Tavoso) both say that the other one is the one to take the call." Neither Bowman, Krogh or Tavoso were available for comment by press time.
Roche said that there were the "typical red flags of a restaurant that was headed in the wrong direction" that appeared early on. "We had equipment, coolers that needed to be fixed, that never got fixed and still are broken. All of a sudden purveyors aren't getting paid, we're not allowed to hire any more staff, things that we're told are going to happen don't happen and the next thing you know the chefs aren't getting paid. In my opinion, when you stop paying your employees, it's just time to fuck off."
Despite these obstacles, the back of the house was going smoothly, according to Roche. "The first couple of months were a little bit shaky just from the opening and tweaking everything trying to get it just right. But once we started rolling, in my opinion, we really nailed the food. Thomas and I always made the best decisions together. That was probably the best part about working there. We had a really great relationship working together. We worked every single day. And somehow we were the two guys that got the shaft."
And the food coming out of the kitchen was well received, he says. "I'd say ninety-five percent of everyone I ever talked to there loved every single dish and they'd rave about it. And then every single table I'd talk to would say, I can't believe you're not busier." Online reviews from customers back Roche up, with the wide majority of Yelp users in particular giving the restaurant four and five stars.
"It was a personal decision for me. I wasn't ready to take that anymore. It just got to the point where it was ridiculous. Initially, what Thomas and I and Nate were shooting for — all three of us are an extension of each other and work really well together — what we started off wanting to do, we were getting further and further away from that. For a number of different reasons. Add the issue of me not getting paid for my time there and it was worth my time to walk away and do something else. I love Thomas and Nate as much as I ever have. Me leaving had nothing to do with what we were doing together."
Roche doesn't intend to be idle for long. He plans on continuing to make his gelato creations for Jim Graziano's store J.P. Graziano's Grocery Company and hopes to do the same for other venues around Chicago. "Custom gelatos, sorberts and ice creams — that's something I just really like to do. I'm good at it and it fulfills part of my desire to cook. I have a game plan and I'm feeling pretty good about it. It's actually been a relief."
It sounds as if Roche has found a silver lining after his troubles. Keep an eye out for Roche's upcoming plans.
[Update: Baume & Brix co-owner Jeff Krogh has responded, only saying that "We wish Ben nothing but the best and have enjoyed our time working together."]
· All Baume & Brix coverage
· Baume & Brix Overhauling Menu, Launching Almost Completely New One Wednesday
· Baume & Brix [Official Site]