Thu 19 Mar 2009 10:33 am
Per my previous post, Gabriel Claycamp is now confirming on his Facebook page that Culinary Communion has closed.
He wrote: “Gabriel Lee Claycamp is coming to grips with the fact that this rollercoaster has ended. CC is done. We have given our whole lives to this dream and met amazing people. Love you.”
Supporters reported receiving a letter of explanation (below) a few hours later.
The short summary: The final straw for the closure, he wrote, was the city’s requirement that a second exit be built from the building’s basement. He will hold a going out of business sale at CC March 21 to raise money toward paying the staff and refunding tuition. ” It is not our intention to slip away quietly, leaving a pile of debt and bad feelings behind us.” He still plans to operate The Swinery and Lunch Counter (though, if the city does lock the building’s doors, as he references below, I’m not sure how that works.) If you want to help, he wrote, attend the sale, be vocal about good experiences you had with CC — “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. ”
Here’s the full letter:
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
**updated at 12:52 p.m. to add the farewell letter and remove the note that a letter would be coming**
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