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All You Can Eat

Trend-setting restaurants, Northwest cookbooks, local food news and the people who make them happen.

March 19, 2009 at 3:33 PM

Saints preserve us! Culinary Communion closes

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.,

Seattle, 98144

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

dream.

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

end.

Hope to see you Saturday. Thank you all for your love and support.

Yours,

Gabriel & Heidi

Co-Founders

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