Payton Curry Says Caffe Boa's Challenge is High Turnover, Not His Name -- Explains Why He Left Tempe Restaurant

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Last week, Caffe Boa owner Jay Wisniewski said local celebu-chef Payton Curry, Caffe Boa's executive chef for a year and a half, was "getting expensive" after business started to decline at the Tempe location -- and that there was a "backlash" among diners who, in addition to not liking or understanding Curry's fare, thought they were paying more for it because Curry's name was attached.

Curry told me Friday afternoon that his name and food weren't the problem.

"The front of the house staff weren't getting paid so turnover was high," Curry says. "It's tough to try and educate guests about the farm to table concept when the servers aren't around long enough to be educated on it."

Curry says that he took the job at Caffe Boa because he wanted to provide great-tasting food for Tempe's ASU students and that, for the first six-and-a-half-months, he never had a day off, sometimes working until one in the morning.

So what did Caffe Boa guests think about Curry's cuisine?

"In my time there, I heard once guest complain about my food," Curry says. "It was from a guest who ordered the mussels. The server came back to the kitchen and told me the guest sent them back because they had 'too much flavor.' I turned the radio down and told her to say that loud enough for the kitchen to hear."

Frustrated by the high turnover in the front of the house and the unexpected responsibility of the new Mesa location (which Curry told me he never signed-up to run), the final straw came, he says, when he returned to work this winter from a stint at Tent City. Curry had pleaded guilty to a charge of extreme DUI incurred September 2010 in Yavapai County. (The timing matches up, since Curry reported on his blog last month that he's been sober for 10 months.)

Curry came back to Caffe Boa and discovered something alarming, he says.

"Jay [Wisniewski] had put farm-raised salmon on the menu -- that's something I would never do," Curry says. "I'm a 'scratch cook,' fresh-caught seafood, free-range lamb, I believe in 'truth in menu' and would never do that shit."

Curry quit shortly after the Salmon Incident. What was the first thing Wisniewski said after his star gave notice?

Curry says, "He asked me when he could get me off the payroll."

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Location Info

Caffe Boa on Mill

398 S. Mill Ave., Tempe, AZ

Category: Restaurant


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20 comments
Guest
Guest

Do not eat here! Boa does not pay it's employees. I have several friends who are owed over a thousand dollars(in tips, not checks). What's worse, a few people have been persuaded to sign contracts which state they can not ask for their money or speak ill of the restaurant so that they may receive some portion of the money that is owed to them. For some reason the owners do not realize or care that this is stealing. Individuals who have no integrity can not produce food with integrity either.

mike
mike

i was a former front of the house employee at boa in mesa shortly after it had opened its doors for business, and i can attest to the delayed pay of tips and checks (sometimes 3 weeks+). as far as chef curry is concerned he was one of the best chef's that i have worked with. (i have 14 years in the business) he is clearly passionate about the food he serves and if you show the interest he really enjoys talking food and explaining it. as a front of the house employee that is much appreciated and makes our jobs much easier. there are a lot of chefs, most actually who are pricks and don't give servers or bartenders the time of day. i moved away from Arizona in may of 2010 so i unfortunately could not continue working with curry, but i certainly would work with him again anytime. good luck in your new ventures chef, you don't need that crook jay anyway.  aloha

Adam
Adam

This response to the Salmon issue, being farm raised, well lets just say thats somewhat silly, this is called Acquaculture and is the way of our(Humans) future, theres an increasing demand for seafood and the "Wild" fish are being depleted at alarming rates, so to counter this problem you have Farmed fish, yes theres still issues with pollution,etc.. but you can get great Farmed fish that helps relieve alot of the pressure off of the Wild populations so they can survive.. so dont think "farmed" is a bad thing necessarily, because its just not, its nice to be all "I would never put farm raised salmon on My menu" is just shortsighted and any restaurant knows, its very hard to make a living selling Only Wild caught fish without charging alot for it with small portions, food for thought. maybe one of the reasons why peyton curry has a hard time keep employment..

anonymous
anonymous

i've known a couple people that have worked at and until recently were employed by caffe boa tempe and heard many stories about not being paid and missing bills. and when employees ask for money to pay bills etc. the owners/managers have actually given attitude like they were asking them for a favor.  The most recent story being the staff was offered gift cards to the establishment in lieu of being paid they're credit card tips! WOW! 

Aznative
Aznative

This is getting juicier by the minute.  Curry sounds more credible. Jay has had his issues with businesses.  To say both of Curry's restaurants closed is ridiculous.  Everything at Waterfront closed, and neither were Curry's restaurants.  He didn't have full control of either restaurant.  Design, prices, layout, location.  I'm not sure he even had full say on the menu.

Jay
Jay

I don't need a head chef. And while I'm at it I don't need pay my staff or bills. Wanna know more? Call me 602 571 2122

Jack Squat
Jack Squat

As a former front of house employee at Caffe Boa in Tempe, I can confirm that what Payton says about the staff not being paid, and the high turnover rate is one hundred percent true. Credit card tips, by law, are to be paid to servers within three business days. At Caffe Boa, the average time is somewhere between three and six weeks, sometimes longer. Paychecks? Just as bad. This has lead to many servers being late on rent, unpaid bills, postponed or cancelled medical appoinments and grocery cupboards going bare. This is not the exception, nor is it even a slight exxageration. This is the norm at Caffe Boa - the status quo. The staff turnover is, even for this industry, unbelieveably high, as a result. Naturally. How could anyone expect to maintain an enthusiastic, qualified staff under these conditions? This conduct by the proprietors of Caffe Boa is not only unethical, it is literally criminal. I am thrilled that Payton has the courage to speak the truth about this issue publicly. It is the fundemental problem with Caffe Boa, there is absolutely no question about it.

Working under Payton Curry was an exciting, every day adventure. What he brings to the table is, well, much more than he brings to to the table. His passion for quality, locally sourced food is infectious. As a server even, I learned more about food, what it could be and what it could mean, than I ever dreamed of. An earlier respondant commented on Payton's absurd ego - I couldn't disagree more. I've always known Payton to be quite humble actually, even referring to himself as a line cook to a visiting journalist. Given someone of his unquestionable talent and skill? Humble, yes.

In reading these dueling articles, something has been made quite clear. The real story here is not where Caffe Boa is headed in the future, nor is it Payton's reasons for leaving, though I admire him standing up for himself in this way. No. The real story here is about a pair of restauranteurs that have built their fortune on the backs of abused and unpaid employees. It is a story of illegal practices and worker exploitation that the posh patrons of Caffe Boa would be fascinated to hear about, I'm sure. It is a story that should be explored in depth and would make much better reading material, not for long-departed disgruntled former employees like myself, but for the curious readers of this blog and The New Times. Not to mention those in Bill Montgomery's office and The Arizona Labor Board.

MO
MO

Calling Payton a 'celeb chef' is a dis-service to him and to his food.  Yes, he is a big personality that might for some be hard to handle, a storm in a tea cup, a psycho jungle cat pacing up and down waiting to pounce on you and tear you apart with a multi-course dinner with 'too much flavor' and fried chicken that is 'too juicy' (I was there that night in the kitchen when a customer said this, I can testify).  

But he knows that was he does is just dinner.  He only tries to educate those that come to him, ready and willing to be educated about what the local dirt taste like.  You want to know what a local tomato or squash taste like?   Go eat one of Payon's plates.  

This round of televised gossip is distasteful and unnecessary.  So Jay said this and that.  Whatever.  Does anyone remember the history that Jay has as far as his business deals?  Remember that there is another Caffe Boa in Ahwatukee that is no longer associated with him?  He is notoriously difficult to work with as a business associate.  

Payton's only mistake might be in trusting in business partner unworthy of what he does and what he brings to the table.  Anyone that visited him during his stay at The Welcome Diner can testify on his ability to bring a guest to the table and keep them there, satisfied, beyond full yet eager and waiting for more.   

Guestofaguest
Guestofaguest

It seems Payton Curry is becoming largely unemployable. His ego is absurd. When you really consider what he has done on paper (as potential investors tend to do) he's effectively closed two restaurants in two years. What else?

supplementalname
supplementalname

i could never get a grasp of curry's menu. it always looked appetizing but the follow-through was just short. i'm a boa fan since the beginning so i routinely double-back and retry... only to be disapointed again. also, please get rid of all those gnats flying around at the bar. gross.

Kathy Monkman
Kathy Monkman

Wow...those mussels were the thing I got EVERY TIME I went to Boa while Payton was there...that cracks me up!  Dang wish I had some of that "too much flavor" right now, for breakfast.  :)

Steve
Steve

Eve, as to the farmed raised salmon issue. Google Farm raised salmon, there is plenty of evidence that "farm raised" salmon creates undue amounts of pollution and is not healthy for human consumption. It also has to be dyed since its natural color is a pale gray, not pink.  I never eat farm raised salmon and if you would do your research you would not too.  Too many restaurants advertise fresh salmon, not advising that it is farmed raised. Any chef with integrity would not serve it, especially any one attempting a locovore frame work. Farm raised salmon are not "green", they are unhealthy and lack the fish oil component of line caught. Do you research before you spout generalities. And just so you know, I'm not a big Curry supporter. I just think you need to do research before you comment.

formermesaemployee
formermesaemployee

jay you crook, you will go down eventually. you burn all your bridges and shit on everyone, it will all come back to bite you in the ass.

mike
mike

did you work at the mesa or the tempe location?

Eve
Eve

Clarify that you worked at Caffe Boa Tempe,. Not Ahwatukee because there's no issues with the Caffe Boa in Ahwatukee,.. It's a different owner from the treacherous Tempe location.

anonymous
anonymous

digestif closed because the owner signed 3 ten year leases for 3 restaurants without any backers and the market crashed hard and put a burden on ciao kaz and seasaw. funny know when says the same thing about nobou who was suppose to move over with seasaw or kantak with mexican standoff...all three of these guys done in by bad buisness deals in a bad economy! And all three fucking rockstars!

Sarahwineandcheese
Sarahwineandcheese

Agreed!! Curry is a bad cook, puts places out of business( since moving to Phoenix, he has had 2 jobs.. Digestif-out of business, Caffe Boa tempe/Mesa-Mesa location out of business, tempe location probably next.. There will only be an Ahwatuuke location, but owned by different owner, Peyton never worked there thankfully) and his childish welcome diner pop up diner whatever seats like 6 people,.. No chance this guy has of real future in Phoenix.

Jack Squat
Jack Squat

It is in the first sentence of my comment.

EasyBoaSpotter
EasyBoaSpotter

Given the short-sightedness and one-sided nature of you comments, there is no question who you folks are. Be a little more thoughtful next time. Perhaps you won't be so easily discovered. Cheers.

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