FOOD- THE DISH- Bistro brouhaha: Michael's midsummer mutiny explained

Michael Crafaik is preparing to take back his namesake restaurant.

Ever since Michael's Bistro, a venerable Corner eatery, mysteriously shut down over a week ago, a whirlwind of speculation has blanketed media and blogs– but with comment from the controversy-plagued Bistro owner curiously omitted from the various reports.

But 38-year-old Michael Crafaik– a firm believer in "Don't believe what you read"– wants to set the record straight. The younger Crafaik has referred to his restaurant as a "family," but even families hit stumbling blocks.

"It will always be a family, but sometimes families get a divorce," Crafaik says. "My partner tried to oust me."

The shut-down seems to have stemmed from a falling out with former business partner Chuck Adcock that Crafaik terms an "emotional hurricane" à la Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. 

"It was a crazy time, people lost their cool," Crafaik says. "It was the heat of the summer, the full moon, Jupiter rising."

Crafaik says it all started when he made the decision to fire front-of-the-house manager Bob Dorsey. (One reported allegation was that Crafaik fired the whole staff and then sequestered himself inside the Bistro.)

"I only fired the manager," says Crafaik. "The staff walked out, but it was time for a change."

According to Crafaik, Adcock went to Crafaik's father/landlord, John, who operates Littlejohn's deli below the Bistro, to assert that the son was unfit to remain in business, an act that resulted in John Crafaik changing the locks to keep his son out of the space. Adcock denies these assertions.

"I know there was a disagreement between him and his dad, but it wasn't because I was trying to convince his dad he wasn't interested in the restaurant business," Adcock says.

Presented with the conflicting stories, John Crafaik refused to comment on "gossip that sells newspapers."

Adcock contends that a mutual decision for Adcock to buy out the allegedly no-longer-active Crafaik had been in the works for years. But Crafaik, who founded the Bistro by himself in 1995, suddenly "changed his mind," a decision Adcock attributes to their different styles of business. 

"We had to go our own way," says Adcock, now in the process of selling the business completely to Crafaik.

Crafaik is no stranger to public squabbles. A one-time candidate for City Council, he was involved in a dust-up in 2000 with a fellow Republican at Mono Loco restaurant that resulted in his filing criminal assault charges. In 2005, Crafaik himself became the target of charges that he bit an employer, but he was acquitted.

During the latter incident, Adcock lauded Crafaik as "a great person to deal with," but reached on Tuesday, July 28, Adcock now says, "We don't see eye to eye."

A day after the Thursday, July 17, firing and mass walk-out, the Bistro shut down because of lack of staff, says Crafaik.

"I've had other business partners, and kitchen staffs are always good in this town," says Crafaik. "My new rule is not to pay people to dislike me."

One person new to the payroll is Clive Papayanis, caterer and former chef of Boheme, a recently closed restaurant on Market Street.

"Clive is my ambassador at this time," says Crafaik. "He's helping me establish the professional protocol every restaurant should have." Crafaik says that when he first saw Papayanis working, he was blown away by his new partner's skills.

"I'm ADD," says Crafaik, "and I'm envious of his systems of organization." In particular, according to Crafaik, Papayanis is helping to tighten up relations with the Health Department.

Thank goodness for that. According to the Health Department website, Michael's Bistro has had 56 "critical" violations since June 2003, 11 of which stemmed from a single inspection in May. Boheme, on the other hand, kept it clean with only four critical violations after its late 2006 inception– a relatively low number compared with most Charlottesville dining establishments.

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