Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bun Brouhaha: Kitchen staff's snap firing worthy of reality TV

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It sounds like a scene too outrageous for even the most unreal of reality chef shows.

How could a dispute over a toasted bun possibly lead to the co-owner of the Royal Albert Arms firing the in-house restaurant's only chef, its only cook and the joint's only server?

All on a busy lunch hour Tuesday.

And all of this just days after the restaurant finally reopened after being closed for nearly two years.

What the Hell's Kitchen is going on?

-- -- --

They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but that was in the day before social networking. One of the former restaurant staff members served it hot this week in a Facebook posting -- "How We Lost Our Jobs or The Best Restaurant that Never Was."

By mid-week, three people had emailed me copies of the account, including the writer herself -- Katie Muirhead, the fired server. In her version of events, Katie wrote about how much work chef Phil Kendel and manager Mat Leveille put into reopening the Royal Albert Cafe.

She explained how the three of them spent the first week tossing around menu ideas, creating a seating chart and reorganizing the space. Every morning they were there by 6:30 to start prepping. By their first Friday lunch, the place was packed, Phil was the only one in the kitchen and the oven wasn't co-operating. At the end of that day, Mat, Phil and Katie were tired, but still inspired. They worked their second Monday together.

And then along came Tuesday.

That morning Mat was home ill, the place was lined up for breakfast by 6:45 a.m., and at noon, the kitchen -- where Phil now had line cook Mike O'Connell to assist him -- was even busier.

Until everything suddenly stopped.

In the midst of the lunch-hour rush, the building's co-owner, a burly, dark-haired dude named Ray Rybachuk, asked to speak to the chef.

"He had a complaint that the burger's bun shouldn't be grilled," Katie recounted. "The chef said, respectfully, 'Well, I'm the chef and I think it is better that way.' "

Snap, crackle, pop -- it was over for the young chef.

Right there in front of the paying customers -- the served, the unserved and the shocked -- Rybachuk reportedly told Phil to "take off your apron and leave."

To make sure, Rybachuk followed him into the kitchen and, in short order, ended up firing Mike, who started the day before, and Katie. She recalled the raging Rybachuk's words this way:

"This restaurant is DONE. YOU'RE DONE. GET OUT."

The three of them were subsequently escorted out the front door and banned from ever returning.

But the "clincher," for Katie, was who was going to serve breakfast with as much care as they did to the long-term tenants of the Royal Albert Arms Hotel, people who have been dealt tougher life blows than the three resilient 20-somethings.

Friday, I emailed Daren Jorgenson, the other co-owner. He made a point of saying that Ray Rybachuk is his partner in the building, but not the bar, and the man who did the firing is not supposed to be involved in restaurant operations.

"Ray somehow got involved that day and now we have a big mess."

Jorgenson went on to say he felt bad about what happened. He said he thought about asking them back, but didn't think that would be fair to them. He thought most of them had been working about a week and he would make sure they got a month's salary.

"I wish I had magical powers and could turn back time and was there to intervene."

Katie said she got her paycheque late Friday and she was happy Jorgenson kept his word.

Later, after he had been in touch with Rybachuk, Jorgenson sent another email.

"The way Ray explained his side of things was to send me a clip from the movie Casino, 'the blueberry incident.' "

Jorgenson suggested I Google "video casino movie blueberry blueberries." So I did. 

In the movie, Robert De Niro plays Sam "Ace" Rothstein, a big-time gambler and even bigger control freak employed by the mob to oversee the operations of a Las Vegas casino.  See the clip.

At the end of "the blueberry incident" scene, De Niro's character confronts a startled chef in the kitchen and demands that from now on, he has to put the same number of blueberries in every muffin.

"Very unique situation I find myself involved in," mused Jorgenson.

-- -- --

So who is Ray Rybachuk, this guy who compares himself and his actions to a control-freak mob associate?

The answer was buried in a June 2012 story from the Free Press archives.

"Between 1994 and 2006, Rybachuk was convicted of assault, mischief, narcotic trafficking, money laundering and obstruction of justice, court records show. As well, criminal background checks on him have warned he had ties to both the Los Brovos and the Manitoba chapter of the Hells Angels."

Um, ah, you know, maybe Ray Rybachuk had his reasons for going all blueberry-muffin on Phil and Mike and Katie.

Maybe the chef can just say he's sorry, that next time he'll just leave Ray's buns, and they can all hug and make up.

Heck, this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship and their own reality-chef show.

How does Hells Angels Kitchen grab you, Ray?

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2013 B1

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