Caffe Boa Owner Jay Wisniewski Says, "You Don't Need a Big-Name Chef to Have a Great Restaurant"

Categories: News
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Owners Jay and Christine Wisniewski of Caffe Boa

Update: After this piece was published, Wisniewski called to clarify that Payton Curry wasn't overpaid, but was getting expensive.

Charleen Badman, Bernie Kantak, Silvana Salcido Esparza -- who needs 'em? Jay Wisniewski, owner of Caffe Boa, the Italian-inspired eatery in Tempe, is convinced you don't need a big-name chef to have a successful restaurant -- and he believes the public doesn't want them, either.
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Jamie Peachey
Payton Curry
On Payton Curry, Caffe Boa's executive chef for a year and a half and infamously known for his adventurous Christmas reindeer and Easter rabbit dinners, Wisniewski says he was overpaid and, although he loved and supported Payton's dishes, Caffe Boa's guests did not.

"There was a backlash," Wisniewski says. "People thought some of it tasted too gamey and didn't understand what a lot of it was. They also thought they were paying more because we had a big-name chef at our restaurant."

He adds, "The public doesn't want a big-name chef. They love an underdog and, ultimately, they pay the bills."

Chef Matt Smith, Curry's sous chef and executive chef of Caffe Boa after his departure, was the next to go.,

Guest comments about Curry's food, much of which chef Matt Smith continued after his departure, eventually led Wisniewski to make some menu changes with Smith, but Smith struggled with the new menu and and gave his notice last week after being with Caffe Boa for less than six months.

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Photo courtesy of Caffe Boa
Chef Matt Smith
Ultimately, it was a control issue," the owner concludes. "He [Smith] wanted to be the one with the final say, but there were things I needed to do."

Wisniewski says the split was amicable.

With big-name chef Payton Curry out of the picture, and not-so-big-name chef Matt Smith gone as well, who will be Caffe Boa's new, non-big-name executive chef?

Turns out, no one.

"We have a solid kitchen full of good people. There's a guy who's at the helm, but we're not calling him an executive chef, and he doesn't want to be called that, either," Wisniewski says. "You don't need a big name in the kitchen to have a great restaurant. The public is moving away from that idea."

Will not having a big name chef at Caffe Boa be for the best? Wisniewski tells me the changes have been for the better and guests are responding positively. And he says he'll continue to use fresh ingredients from Maya's Farm and McClendon's Select, make his own pasta, and serve up great tasting food. He's also planning to add some natural wines to his menu.

All good things, but could Wisniewski's rejection of a "big-name chef" at his restaurant have more to do with financial woes than matters of taste? After all, Caffe Boa Bistro -- the Wisniewski's second location in Mesa -- closed after just a year and half, not having an executive chef at the Tempe location means not paying for one and, after getting rid of everyone who "wasn't on the same page," at the Tempe location, Wisniewski hired some new team members, including his sister, who will share in managing the restaurant, and her husband, who'll work the bar.

"When you have the passion and the knowledge," Wisniewski says, "sometimes you have to do things yourself to be successful."

In the end time (and food) will tell.

Note: I've reached out to Payton Curry for a comment and have not heard back yet, but I'll keep you posted.

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Caffe Boa on Mill

398 S. Mill Ave., Tempe, AZ

Category: Restaurant

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24 comments
MJL
MJL

I think he still owes me money... Also he owns a wine business called "Empty Glass", which is funny in it's own right. Since it will be empty very soon, the writing is on the wall. Nobody will do business with Jay, because they know how terrible of a person he is. He still owes money to the employee's of the now deceased Boa Bistro in Mesa. 

Audiesfa
Audiesfa

First of all, reagarding the old chef wanting to have the final say in the kitchen someone needed to try and have the final say because the owner was never in the country.....Second, even if the food, service, and especially the bar staff was awesome I would no longer go to any caffe boa location for the way the owner treats his employees.  Ask any staff member there why the employee turnover was so high and they will all tell you not getting paid sucks! You read that right not getting paid for weeks, if at all.  There are employees that are owed hundreds of dollars and when they try and collect they are then told that he (the owner) tells them that he thinks they stole from him and that they owe him money!  And all those cash tips nice patrons left, MISSING and not given to the proper people, even I know that is theft.  If you dine at a Caffee Boa restaurant shame on you for giving such a horrible person more money in his pocket.

Anon
Anon

So I assume since Jay says the public didn't want to pay more for a name chef and Curry no longer works there we can expect prices to decrease on the menu, or more likely Jay will hoard that extra money along with that he owes his workers.

EngelsA
EngelsA

I know personally that Jay is a scum bag of the first order. On a level that no one can imagine, I also know that Curry is a bad overrated waste of a Chef.. Both of these overinflated egos wiped out their core business and now Jay survives on coupon groupons, and localdine.. So sad. Oh ya and he's so deep in debt on his house and business it's just a house of cards waiting to fall... Can't say Karma wins everytime.

: )
: )

So, the two head chefs quit, due to not being paid like the rest of the staff, yet Jay tries to spin this as a good thing. Hopefully this will only help open the door into Jay Wisniewski's shady buisness practices. During my (luckily) brief time working for him, myself and every other staff member, including management and chefs, were constantly owed hundreds of dollars, and simply never given our paychecks. I was instructed during my training to keep track of how much was owed to me, and that if I wanted the money that I earned, I would need to beg, and hope to recieve money which was owed to me for weeks. Apparently Jay had a reputation of not paying his own staff. Any paychecks actually given to  the staff bounced, and suppliers would only take cash after having the same thing happen to them regularly. This is why the turnover rate is so high. This is why you may notice a different staff every time you go in. If you pay and tip with a credit card, Jay will hold this money for many weeks, and wait until the servers/bartenders  ask him about it, and then try to give them less than is owed. So if you must go, pay in cash so the person serving you will actually get paid. However, with the depature of nearly the entire staff, recent health code violations,( http://blogs.phoenixnewtimes.c... ) and many negative recent reviews, one must consider eating elsewhere. Those in the restaurant industry of the Phoneix area generally have nothing but respect for Payton Curry, and nothing but disrespect for Jay Wisniewski. I agree with the other poster in that the bigger story here is the reason these staff members are quitting so often. Look into Jay Wisniweski's buisness practices New Times, you may be shocked at what you find. Perhaps he can answer any questions you have: Jaywiz@cox.net

Amy Silverman
Amy Silverman

Thank you Sharon, Dominic and Chris for adding to the conversation in such a smart way -- you know your stuff, folks. (Not that that needed to be pointed out, but I felt like it anyway!)

Kathy Monkman
Kathy Monkman

This is a very strange article to me with food taking a huge spotlight right now (Food Network and the Cooking Channel?  ).  Denigrating Chefs who have worked very hard to establish a name, a style, a reputation, a following and now you're going to diminish that in the very industry you live and breathe in?  This just makes absolutely no sense to me.  I'll follow Payton Curry anywhere by the way.  And Silvana Esparza and Charleen Badman to name a couple others.  We get national recognition for our "big name" Chefs here in Phoenix and I for one am proud of them and what they bring to our community!  I enjoy meeting them and find them all very humble and approachable. Again this article makes no sense to me.

Joes12
Joes12

Wow! As a restaurant owner this man admits he is a poor business manager, then airs his mistakes on here. The closing of one of his restaurants in Mesa supports these facts. Ineptitude and inability to manage a business, people and especially the media is his calling card.His self righteous PR machine is shameful. http://www.azcentral.com/news/... Remember this story? 

Quizsicle
Quizsicle

Wisniewski going on the record is always a train wreck. I cringe, yet I cannot look away...

!!
!!

Ok lets get some facts out there, this article is a one-sided crock of shit. How the hell can the owner say his chef is overpaid .... you signed him on at that rate!! A contract you wrote retard! Not to mention Curry is worth every penny. When you bring quality ingredients in with expert techniques, the results are what the people expect... good food. Believe it or not it takes a great chef to accomplish that task, big name or not. Curry left Cafe BLOWA because Jay has no respect for his employees, plain and simple. We all (except for Laura Hahnefeld) know that Jay has the worst morals in the biz... he is a liar, cheat, and fraud. All the stories you here about the employees paychecks are true. Every purveyor BLOWA has are on cash terms ... WOW you suck Jay!Now the article says Matt Smith was "the next to go" ... the truth is he was just the next employee to say "I need my money now" Jay owed Matt on the day he walked out... not a mutual agreement by the way, 5 PAYCHECKS ,WTF, not even Laura would stick around for that job. Matt was employed there longer than Payton Curry. Did you know that shit Laura!Lets call Mclendon & Mya  on Monday Laura, and double check if they are on board with Jay because I'm sure they don't-aren't-and-won't deliver to him since Matt Smith and Payton Curry are not around.

All in all, facts are important, and Jay is full of shit. Good luck with the new staff Jay I hear your sister will be a great asset to the team ..... once she is out of tent city of course. O SNAP! 

Zeftel
Zeftel

What the public wants is a business owner to provide a service that is justifiably paid for,  not a disservice and a rape and pillage.  Jason Bitchnewski doesnt pay his staff often times holding  kitchen employees monies and servers tips for 6-8 weeks while he is out driving is new B.M.W. ( Buy More Wiznieski) and living in his $3.8 million dollar home on Camelback Mountain.  There is no truth in menu now that Payton left and I cannot believe that Jason has the nerve to bring Curry thru it again just to get press.  We get it Bitchnewski's you all have D.U.I.'s and need to pay people off for your Croatian lifestyle of the Bitch and Lamest.  Im glad Payton is no longer a Voodoo Child.  Boa Constricting times are coming.  

"Yes, Restaurants that will be Audited for $100 please"

Ronnormann22
Ronnormann22

To me Boa is officially a why bother destination -- so therefore I won't bother!

Chris Lee
Chris Lee

Wow, a lot of people are doing themselves no good by speaking out lately. Totally agree with Sharon Salomon's point. None of these folks were big names and all earned their reputations here through consistent, great food. To put the situation on Curry and Smith just seems ridiculous.

The public doesn't want an underdog either. The public wants great food at good value. Oftentimes you rely on folks that have been proven to deliver that.I don't think a "name" chef belongs at Boa. From appearances, seem to be too many issues with control and ego.

Clari
Clari

Grieving the loss of the Caffe Boa that was when it first opened in Mesa, I now find myself fascinated with the whole Boa drama--reading blog comments, offering a few rants myself.  I know, get a life. But really, is anyone taking notes?  Perfect for a business management school case study, or better yet--get Gordon Ramsey here for an episode of Kitchen Nightmares.

firebat
firebat

Hey jay w. It would also help if your weren't a piece of shit to everyone and didn't act like a total piece of shit. You degrade every server, you act like a child and just don't give a shit about your workers. Go to he'll sir.

Dominic Armato
Dominic Armato

I understand and agree with the notion that it's the food that should matter and not the name that's attached to it, but there's a fine line between making that point and doing so by diminishing the accomplishments of folks who have earned their stripes.

Noname
Noname

That's spin from a desperate owner trying to make light of a bad situation.  Living in Mesa, we frequented Caffe Boa Bistro with wild abandon.  We invited our friends, our family, our neighbors.  We loved the place.  It was a welcome diversion having a good restaurant and wonderful happy hour near by.  We went to Caffe Boa Bistro just 2 days before it closed.  The menu had significantly changed, and all our favorites were gone from the menu.  We knew Curry was gone, but it was our first try since he left.  It was terrible... sticky, flavorless and just awful.  Service was equally poor, with an obvious high dissatisfaction level.  We swore we'd never be back... no matter, it closed two days later.  Guess big name chefs are expensive and don't matter... but they sure bring in the customers with superior food... bringing their check book with them.  Good luck, Jay.

STEVE
STEVE

Exactly, you hit the nail on the head. Boa in Mesa was fully supported by the community. If the owners had any organizational skills which they don't. Once Curry bolted, it was never the same. I wonder why no one continued to eat there. Because the service, food was awful.  I will never eat at the restaurant in Tempe. The fact that they are so cheap they won't even pay an executive chef shows their stupidity. Its not fast food, its supposed to be fine dining. 

Daydream_123
Daydream_123

It doesn't take a big name...it takes quality food and equally quality service to keep me coming back for more. Who knows the cook could become the next great big name chef...

Guest
Guest

Agreed on all the comments here.  It's a shame about the Mesa location, too- when they were on, they were ON.  Oh well, there's plenty of other good restaurants in the Valley for me to spend my money at...

No longer a guest
No longer a guest

You truly don't need a big name chef, but you DO need competent waitstaff.  That was the problem at the Mesa location.  Amazingly bad, mostly disinterested,  service from the waitstaff on our final two visits. 

Sharon Salomon
Sharon Salomon

Badman, Kantak and Salcido were not big "names" when they started. Although they all had experience, I'd guess that few people knew who Silvana or Charleen was when they first opened their restaurants. Bernie made a name for himself at Cowboy Ciao but doubtful that you knew who he was before that. They made their "names" by cooking great food. So if Mr. Wisniewski offers the public outstanding food, then his chef will become a "name" whether he wants it to happen or not.

Jay
Jay

You're right--any chef can serve sour grapes in your kitchen, Wisniewskis. 

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