It’s tough keeping up with the trials and tribulations of Gabe Claycamp and Culinary Communion (though Rebekah Denn continues to do a helluva job). First came the cooking school, later the secret “Gypsy” dinners. There was a big move, in 2007, to a new Beacon Hill location where the culinarily minded gathered for cooking classes from some of the city’s top chefs. The new expansive “CC House” — as friends of the family called it — was also the site for schmooze-fests with cookbook authors. But things have been going south for Culinary Communion for some time.
First the Liquor Control Board came calling, and Gabe spread the news via e-mail. Then, just when he was close to getting his Swinery business off the ground the health department said “uh-uh.” And next thing you know there’s a veritable food-fight as folks weighed in on whether Gabe Claycamp is a visionary with an independent streak or a law-flouting demon in a chef’s coat:
Now, quick on the heels of the news that the Beacon Hill headquarters would be home to a weekday Lunch Counter, Gabe and his wife Heidi are closing up shop at Culinary Communion. Which brings us to their lengthy missive in which the Culinary Communicators explain they are flat-broke and coming to the end of a very difficult chapter in their lives: the going-out-of-business chapter. Here’s their letter in its entirety:
Hello Foodie Friends,
Heidi and Gabriel here, with a painful message. This letter is terribly
difficult to write, and comes to you from a place of deep sorrow.
After over seven years of operation, Culinary Communion must close its
doors. We have explored every option, and nothing will work to keep our
heads above water. We have to shut down.
This decision comes out of a mix of circumstances; we will describe them
briefly here. Simplification is required in the interest of brevity;
this is a pretty complex situation. When we moved into this building in
mid-2007, we borrowed heavily to finance build-out costs. The past 18
months have been spent playing catch-up from that expenditure. We did
manage to finally recover from the bulk of the construction costs late
this past summer, just in time for the economic bust; we saw a 90%
downturn in our business in November. Like many small businesses, we’ve
been struggling to make it through these tough times, barely skating by
through the loyal support of many of our students. We could have made it
but for the last, killing blow.
We anticipated being in this building for at least 5 years, possibly
much longer, so our major investment in improvements seemed sound.
Recently, however, the building has run into permitting trouble related
to its construction prior to our lease: the basement requires a second
exit, a stairwell for emergency egress. If such is not designed and
fully permitted by April 10, the city has told us they’ll lock our doors
and fine us, even though responsibility for amelioration of this issue
falls upon the building’s owners. For the past several weeks we’ve been
up in the air, not knowing what the owners would do. We did not want to
continue accepting registrations since we weren’t sure whether we’d have
a building in April, so we closed the calendar. This put us into a
downward spiral; soon we couldn’t pay the staff. And so on.
We learned last week that the owners do not plan to build this required
exit. We don’t understand this decision, but it’s been made abundantly
clear. As of today, we have no cash flow and no certainty of having a
building from which to operate. We’ve been on the razor’s edge for
months; this has blown us over. We’ve stretched the limits of our
creativity to try to find a way to make this work, had sleepless nights
and last-ditch efforts, but we have finally come to the realization that
it can’t be saved.
Should the owners put in the exit, and/or assuming that situation is
eventually resolved, The Swinery will take over Culinary Communion’s
lease. The Swinery will also continue to operate Lunch Counter from this
building. Lunch Counter will reopen on Monday, March 23.
We have given everything we have and all that we are to Culinary
Communion; it has been much more than a business to us. It’s been our
life, our baby. There were so many nights of sitting around the table
with students; sharing stories, wine, and laughter; growing friendships.
CC is so dear to us that this is like cutting off a limb. Nonetheless,
we’ve come to the end of this chapter.
So, down to the unpleasant nitty-gritty. Culinary Communion has paid out
the last of our funds to our employees and laid them all off. We have
searched for a way to go ahead with the classes that are already on the
calendar, classes for which many of you are already registered, but
that’s impossible. Even if we were to have a space from which to teach,
there are too many classes for Gabriel to teach alone, and we literally
can’t buy the ingredients for those classes now. We understand that this
represents a breach of your confidence; for this we apologize with the
utmost sincerity. We are extremely sorry to let you down, but funds
received for March and April classes have already been used to pay CC’s
staff. There will be no more classes or dinners whatsoever.
However, it is not our intention to slip away quietly, leaving a pile of
debt and bad feelings behind us. Even though Culinary Communion will be
closed, Gabriel and Heidi will make good on every one of those
registrations, although we realize it may take awhile. We have three
options for honoring these obligations: 1) We are having a sale of
assets to raise funds to pay refunds and debts; more on this below. 2)
Anyone who so desires may transfer their refund amount owed by Culinary
Communion to a credit for goods from The Swinery, including lunch at
Lunch Counter. 3) Should we be unable to honor all obligations through
the methods described above, we will make arrangements with students on
a case-by-case basis for Gabriel to provide individual, in-home
instruction as recompense.
What about gift certificates? We don’t know at this point. We’re happy
to exchange CC gift certificates for Swinery gift certificates, although
we will have to restrict when these can be redeemed, so we don’t get hit
all at once and drive The Swinery under, too. If you don’t want Swinery
products or lunch, you could give this certificate to a friend. If that
still doesn’t work for you, we’ll try to figure something else out.
There are too many questions now and too few answers, but we’re doing
the best we can.
There is still one more chance to see each other and say goodbye:
Please join us for a huge GOING OUT OF BUSINESS SALE
The Swinery does not need CC’s teaching equipment, so we’re selling it
off to raise funds for staff and students. From knives and pans to
SubZero refrigerators, we’ve got a lot of stuff to sell: equipment,
dishes, containers, tools, you name it.
We can also sell wine by the bottle. We hope to raise enough money
to give our employees their last pay and then give refunds to everyone
(from last Friday on), and ideally, to pay a few debts, too. We want to
make sure these funds get to the students for whom they are intended;
therefore the sale is CASH ONLY, even for the big stuff. I guess it’s
pretty obvious in this situation that all sales are final. For the bigger
items, we’ll use a silent auction format.
WHEN: Saturday, March 21, 2-6 pm.
WHERE: CC House (it’s still that for now, at least): 2524 Beacon Ave S.,
BUT: Please do not come expecting to pick up a refund for classes on
this day. After paying our staff, we will divide money received among
students who are owed a refund. If we’re not able to raise enough, we’ll
refund everyone the same percentage, so for example, someone who paid
$79 will receive the same percentage of their tuition as someone who
paid $225. We will communicate with students via email about refunds
AFTER this sale, not prior to it.
What will Gabriel and Heidi do? Well, we’re not completely sure yet. As
we mentioned, we’ll continue The Swinery, which is still working hard to
get its approval for bacon production from the King County Health
Department; look for us at farmer’s markets soon. Heidi’s working on a
book about CC, and we hope that will get picked up. For awhile we’re
just going to rest and spend time together as a family, and then we’ll
figure out our next step.
What can you do to help? Lots of people have asked what they can do.
First, please come to the sale and help us liquidate. Refunding tuitions
and paying debts is our top priority. Second, please be vocal about your
good experiences with CC. Tell people what this meant to you. If you
have stories or memories to share, we’d love it if you’d email them to
us–maybe Heidi can put them into the book. Post your positive energy
and good experiences on blogs and help us fight the wave of negativity
we’re expecting will come from a small but loud minority. And, cook. Dig
out your recipes and have a dinner party; invite friends or strangers,
and come together around the table. Keep the food community alive.
We want to express our deepest gratitude and love to every one of you
who’s supported us, taken a class or classes, and helped us sustain this
Our staff has been amazing. Through the years we’ve been privileged to
work with some truly wonderful people, and we can’t thank them all in
this format. However, the group we had most recently assembled was
really the Dream Team. To our office staff, Jenny and Adrienne, thank
you for falling in love with CC and being such perfect additions so
quickly. Zora came on board in 2007 as a third owner and grew into
working full-time as our CFO, for no compensation. Zora, we never could
have made it this far without you and we are grateful for your efforts
and for your belief in this business. Tom, we were awed when you wanted
to come work for us; thank you for being so wonderful with the students
and such a strong presence. Our House Managers, Virginia and Miriam,
were always cheerful and warm, even in the face of mountains of dirty
dishes. Nate and the Swinery staff, thank you for helping to get us set
up, for being flexible, and for wanting to learn. And Katie. Words do
not suffice. You made our dream your own, and loved CC just as much as
ever we did. Starting with ECC House, then teaching full-time in West
Seattle, and finally supporting us in the move to Beacon, you have
always been our rock, tireless and with boundless passion. You poured
yourself into this place, worked crazy hours, and helped steer this
ship. The energy, effort, and faith you gave to Culinary Communion is
unparalleled. Thank you.
To everyone: We are very deeply sorry that we can’t make this work.
Culinary Communion is our baby, and this is breaking our hearts, but we
know it’s very special to you, too, and we are very sorry that it has to
Hope to see you Saturday. Thank you all for your love and support.
Gabriel & Heidi