Call it déjà vu: Foyer, the Saint-Henri restaurant owned by businessman Daniel Lacombe, closed before the Christmas holidays. Again. The bistro and pizzeria went dark a year ago at the same time, only to reopen weeks later with a new kitchen and floor staff. Lacombe owns, or co-owns, three other Montreal restaurants (M sur Masson, Pizzeria Caldo, and Hoogan & Beaufort), as well as Eco-Logixx, Inc., a sanitation, packaging, and food supply company.
The circumstances mirror the events of a year ago, when Foyer summarily closed before the holidays, much to the surprise of staff and suppliers. In the weeks that followed, some employees were left in financial limbo. One told Eater at the time: "When I called Daniel to inquire about my 4% he told me it wasn't his problem. The fact that I have to run around for my money, when I was there every day and night, working to make this guy money, makes me sick. To leave people out of a job at this time of year to line his own pockets is so wrong." A minority partner, Tina An, now a co-owner of Outremont’s Provisions, later settled with Lacombe, and recuperated 50% of her investment in the restaurant.
A year later, Foyer’s employees look to be in a similar pickle. This time, however, the restaurant may not return from self-imposed hiatus — not as Foyer, anyway. A recorded message on Foyer’s voice mail informs callers that the restaurant is closed, but will return on January 24 with a different name and concept. A statement posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page yesterday, and since deleted, was less sanguine. The most pertinent excerpt (translated here) claimed that employees were stunned by Lacombe’s decision to close a week before the December holiday season. "Unfortunately the owner, after having opened three other restaurants, decided that Foyer was no longer profitable (after 10 months of business!). The privileged relationship that we had built with our customers led us to believe that 2016 would be the year for Foyer, a year of profitability! But now we will never know!"
"The boom lasted well into November."
Reached today by phone, Lacombe was reluctant to discuss Foyer. When asked to comment on the similarity between last year’s situation and this year’s, the restaurateur was vague, but cited his chef’s decision to take vacation, and declared the shutter temporary. What is certain, however, is that Lacombe has another group of unhappy ex-employees on his hands.
One, who communicated with Eater at length today on condition of anonymity, described Foyer’s relaunch a year ago as difficult, but ultimately successful. "It took time and perhaps the first months were not profitable, but eventually clients enjoyed our new menu. The community embraced our bistro. Business was booming in May due to our terrace in the back and the front. The boom lasted well into November."
"Which begs the question: where did the money go?"
Despite the alleged boom, the optimistic mood soured after direct deposits were halted in October. After that, "we started receiving personal cheques from Daniel." The employee added that Foyer’s kitchen staff was prepared to replace the chef while he went on holiday. "Our final shift was Saturday, December 19. Foyer’s manager had to convince Daniel to leave cheques for the staff on Tuesday, December 22. The manager had the unenviable task of telling the staff that Daniel was closing the restaurant for good because of our mistakes and because he no longer believed in the project. Being laid off at Christmas was a horrible feeling." A subsequent plan by a group of employees to save the restaurant was shelved when Lacombe's terms proved unworkable. Moreover, "after calls to suppliers, we found out that some were not paid since the summer. Which begs the question: where did the money go?"
"Daniel has the tendency of sending lawyers after people."
When asked about the proviso of anonymity, the employee responded that Foyer’s ex-staff members were on the hunt for new jobs, and "are scared because Daniel has the tendency of sending lawyers after people." The former Foyer worker also speculated that alleged financial problems at two of Lacombe’s other restaurants, M sur Masson, and Caldo, may have played a part in the Saint-Henri restaurant’s misfortune. Gregory Duval, one of Lacombe’s former partners in both M sur Masson and Caldo, confirmed this week that he is no longer attached to either Rosemont restaurant. As for what the future holds for Foyer, Lacombe allegedly plans to revive the restaurant as a burrito concept. Tina An’s advice for Foyer’s stunned staff? "They’ll have to go through the Commission des normes du travail if they wish to get a penny."