The world’s only Michelin-starred brewpub, Band of Bohemia, has closed following a flurry of allegations claiming leadership fostered a toxic work environment while mishandling operations during the pandemic. In an Instagram post announcing the temporary closure, ownership pledged to “continue our discussions on how we will forge a new path forward.”
“We have spent the last week in reflection of who we are as a company, but more importantly as human beings,” co-owners Michael Carroll and Craig Sindelar wrote in a June 28 Instagram post. “We have decided to close our doors for the next few weeks to learn, and reflect on our faults, our deaf ears and the feelings of those who we have caused harm.”
Former workers claim Carroll and Sindelar repeatedly ignored their requests to clean up the workplace, alleging ownership didn’t care about their workforce. They were only concerned with keeping the restaurant’s doors open.
Carroll and Sindelar have not yet responded to a request for more information. They have also not given a reopening timeframe. Executive chef Soo Ahn (Grace, EL ideas) left Band of Bohemia in May, according to the Tribune. The brewpub’s co-owners asked him and other staff to help reopen the restaurant for free while simultaneously collecting unemployment. He was told he would later be paid back about $500 per week at some point should indoor dining resume, he says.
Conversations over reopening plans broke down, according to Ahn, when he raised workers’s concerns over hours, unemployment, and PPE to Carrol and Sindelar. “I just laid it out for them, it wasn’t like I was being threatening or trying to start a coup,” he tells Eater Chicago. “I was just telling them what we thought would be reasonable and would be a safe environment to return to work. As soon as I mentioned that, they basically ended the conversation, saying, well if you want to play hardball, we can play hardball too.”
Ahn says he received an email terminating his employment the next day. About two-and-a-half weeks later, he says, Sindelar called him up as if everything was fine, and told him that they’d love to have him back at the restaurant but simply couldn’t afford him. Ahn brought a new energy to Band of Bohemia with meat-free options when he joined in January 2019. Ahn’s signature dish was a carrot that was also served at the restaurant’s stall at Time Out Market, the food hall in Fulton Market.
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We have spent the last week in reflection of who we are as a company, but more importantly as human beings. We have decided to close our doors for the next few weeks to learn, and reflect on our faults, our deaf ears and the feelings of those who we have caused harm. It was never our intention to come to this path, but as the voices have said, we need to find a way into a new era of how restaurants are run and focused. We have listened. We hear you. We will continue our discussions on how we will forge a new path forward, and how we will change.
Carroll and Sindelar have denied many of the allegations to the Trib, including a claim that they threatened to object to uncooperative workers’s unemployment payments during the pandemic. Ahn says he wasn’t surprised by that, but had hoped they might admit to their mistakes.
“I think it’s kind of weird how they posted on Instagram about how they were going to take a couple weeks off and look at what they’ve done… it was almost like an apology, and they said they were going to come back better or whatever,” Ahn says, though the statement itself does not acknowledge specific misdeeds. “But in actuality, in this Tribune article they are almost playing the victim. I don’t know how that works when you’re the one that was [engaged] in wrongdoing.”
Numerous allegations against Carrol and Sindelar, as well as other local business owners, have recently been raised on Instagram account @the86dlist, which shares anonymous descriptions of misconduct in the Chicago hospitality industry, as well as screenshots of emails from Carroll in which he disparages a former employee and then asks them for assistance nearly a year later. Ahn told the Tribune that he submitted one of the first @the86dlist posts about Band of Bohemia.
Ahn has also raised questions about money from a GoFundMe campaign for workers during the pandemic, which came to nearly $5,400 before the donation page was disabled. Each employee received $111 in early April, he says, but there was money still in the account left undistributed. After Ahn included his concerns in his @the86dlist post, employees were given another $52 each. Carroll also disputed this charge, telling the Trib that he and Sindelar sent workers a breakdown of all donations and where the money went.
Ahn says he’s never experienced an environment like Band of Bohemia. His frustration grew as he watched Carroll and Sindelar react to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Basically when this pandemic hit, they were almost treating it as if it was only affecting them... all they were trying to do was save the restaurant, no matter what the cost was. I thought it was very selfish.”
Allegations of wrongdoing at Band of Bohemia first reached the public in 2019 when two claims against former executive chef Ian Davis were disclosed on Instagram. That was two years after Carroll and Sindela first investigated Davis. Among the claims was an allegation that Davis recorded a video of a woman in an employee bathroom without her consent, and went on to share the footage with another employee. After leaving Band of Bohemia in January 2019, Davis was slated to work as co-executive chef with Brian Fisher at Michelin-starred restaurant Entente. He resigned shortly after his new position was announced.
Two former Band of Bohemia workers also claim Carroll and Sindelar knew about Davis’s behavior and failed to act. Former bar manager Stephan Jurgovan wrote an Instagram post expressing his disgust with their apparent inaction. Jurgovan apologizes for not being more aware of what was going on at the brewpub while in a leadership role.
“I am sorry I didn’t do more to understand the true nature of the beast we worked for,” he writes.