West Seattle food news: The Swinery’s founder, suddenly gone

(Swinery staffers photographed today by Christopher Boffoli: Head Butcher Joseph Brewer, Head Cook Garrett Doherty)
Another twist for the much-lauded West Seattle meat mecca The Swinery: Its founder, Gabriel Claycamp, announced via Facebook that he’s moved on, just one week after its “grand reopening.” He says he’s looking for work. But he also says he leaves it in “good hands” – it’s not closing. As we write, we’ve just heard from Christopher Boffoli, who has covered The Swinery extensively – he is there now and says this happened abruptly, adding that he’s been told the primary investor is at the bank now, changing ownership papers, and, “Employees here say the Swinery will continue and that this is a positive thing. Claycamp was not meeting payroll.” 4:05 PM UPDATE: Christopher has just spoken with Claycamp – read on for some of what he said:

(Swinery courtyard, photographed today by Christopher Boffoli)
From Christopher:

Claycamp says that his decision to leave was primarily a result of the fact that he needed to feed his kids. He claims that, throughout the time he has been trying to get his small business off the ground he has not been drawing enough salary to survive. He is in the process of going through a divorce which has exacerbated the situation.

Though the decision seems sudden, Claycamp says that for a while he had been trying to work something out with the Swinery’s investor James Dillon. The plan, he says, was for Dillon to take over as sole proprietor and for him to hire Claycamp as a chef. Claycamp says that since September he has only drawn $4200 in salary and that with his wife leaving he simply could not do it anymore. Dillon has stepped in from time to time to help Claycamp meet his rent. He also gave Claycamp $10,000 to cover family expenses. But recently he put his foot down and told Dillon that he needs to collect a paycheck. He says that Dillon did not agree. (Christopher is working to reach Dillon to find out what he has to say.)

Claycamp says that the staff in place at the Swinery now is very capable and more than ready to take over the reins. “There are a few things, like with dry curing, that I’m essentially the only one who knows how the process works. They’re going to need help with certain things like their HACCP plans. I’d love to be able to help them transition.”

Claycamp admits that their business was way down in May. “About one half of where it needed to be.” And that during that month they ran up about $7,000 of new debt and some of the utilities, including garbage removal, were cut off for three weeks. But he said that the business has finally been doing very well this month and that they are at long last at a point where they are better than breaking even.

Regarding what’s next: “I was just offered a job today, actually, in Walla Walla. Someone saw my post on Facebook and got in touch with me. I still have no decided if I’m going to take it but it would be interesting. Whatever I do I just need to be able to feed my kids. I’d love to teach classes. But I’d even work as a prep cook at this point. I’m a terrible businessman. I just have to face it. I’ve been acting for too long like a dilettante … where I thought I could just keep working and everything would work out. It is time that I went to work for somebody else, and maybe keep working for somebody else forever.”

More to come, as more info is obtained.

57 Replies to "West Seattle food news: The Swinery's founder, suddenly gone"

  • HelperMonkey July 2, 2010 (2:54 pm)

    shocking. (tongue, cheek, all that) best wishes to The Swinery to grow and prosper under new ownership.

  • JanS July 2, 2010 (2:55 pm)

    totally effing amazing, I say….wow !!!

    this man needs to seriously look inside himself !!!!

  • shed22 July 2, 2010 (2:59 pm)

    i was just there. business as usual.

  • Manolita July 2, 2010 (3:00 pm)

    Best of luck to such wonderful addition to our neighborhood (and just across the street from my business). YUM!

  • ttt July 2, 2010 (3:07 pm)

    Ironic. There were quite a few WSB commenters that predicted something like this would happen after it was reported upon the second time. I’m glad it is sticking around under new owners.

  • sam July 2, 2010 (3:10 pm)

    surely you will let us know who the new owner is when you find out.
    I’m excited it is under new ownership, the woman at small clothes told us how great it was, but I just had a hard time going to a place that was owned by a poor businessman (I’m not not calling him a bad person) to the extent that he was hurting other people.

  • Lynne July 2, 2010 (3:11 pm)

    Best wishes to the investors and employees!

  • Amanda July 2, 2010 (3:14 pm)

    What drama!

  • k July 2, 2010 (3:45 pm)

    no surprise there.

  • johnnyblegs July 2, 2010 (3:57 pm)

    Speaking as a former employee before the remodel, it’s no surprise. Maybe I’ll be a customer now that he’s gone.

  • AnotherIdiotInWS July 2, 2010 (4:03 pm)

    gee… really? Gosh, it’s not like this guy ever did this before.
    I hope you are not looking for work in the Seattle area, Claycamp. Your name is pretty famous these days.

  • waman July 2, 2010 (4:27 pm)

    looked up their biz license online –

    Governing People:

    • WSB July 2, 2010 (4:32 pm)

      There is a significant addendum to the story which I added half hour or so ago. That name was included.

  • HelperMonkey July 2, 2010 (4:28 pm)

    sometimes small business owners don’t draw a paycheck for awhile- that’s just a fact of running your own business. you have to be able to think about that. what’s important is your employees get a paycheck, your vendors get paid, your rent and utilities get paid. when you make a profit, you get a paycheck.

  • D July 2, 2010 (4:32 pm)

    He’d even work as a prep cook at this point??? WOW, he must really be in bad shape! What a piece of work. Best of luck to those Claycamp left behind, who have to clean up his mess.

  • snivelly sam July 2, 2010 (4:50 pm)

    He may not be the best businessman, and may have pissed off a lot of people, but he made a lot more people pretty happy with his classes, which were some of the best cooking classes I ever took.
    Best of luck to all the team members and to anyone who attempts a small business.

  • johnnyblegs July 2, 2010 (5:03 pm)

    If he ran the business correctly from the beginning he could be collecting a paycheck by now. It’s about time that he recognizes what a terrible businessman he is.
    ” …where I thought I could just keep working and everything would work out.” That was his solution for everything and the results finally caught up with him.
    “It is time that I went to work for somebody else, and maybe keep working for somebody else forever.” I certainly hope so Gabe. I also hope this is the last I hear of you.

  • JanS July 2, 2010 (5:57 pm)

    I don’t know Gabe Claycamp, so have no personal opinion of him, really. What I do have knowledge of is divorce…and no one wins financially when it happens. And, from his statement, Mr. Claycamp is well aware of his shortcomings in the business world (acting like a dilletante, he said). Let’s just wish everyone good luck in this… especially glad that he’s thinking about his kids. Sometimes the most difficult thing that we can do in our lives is to be absolutely honest with ourselves.

    I don’t think any od us is so perfect that we can just dump on Gabe Claycamp unabated. JMO.

  • Baba July 2, 2010 (6:28 pm)

    What a soap opera…. or is it REALITY WS?…. Real names…., real debt numbers…real business expectations…and divorce plus kids to spice it all up…Next week I’m just canceling my tv service.

  • Kate K July 2, 2010 (6:47 pm)

    You can be the best chef in the world and not be a good business person. The food business is especially challenging with all the kitchen requirements, and it’s very expensive as well.

    This plus a divorce – yikes. Give the guy a break, people!

    I wish everyone involved with the Swinery much success.

  • k July 2, 2010 (7:03 pm)

    can we please stop caring about this guy now? it’s ridiculous. who cares? waste of valuable blog space.

  • David July 2, 2010 (7:05 pm)

    Sounds like a guy with a good idea, but no business sense. You need to have deep pockets if you are going to start a business like that in this economy.

  • Sammie July 2, 2010 (7:12 pm)

    Yay! Long live the Swinery without Gabe. This means I can go back in there! Finally…

  • JimmyG July 2, 2010 (7:48 pm)

    Dang! Nobody took me up on my bet a few months back of a 20 spot on his business being gone within two years. He was gone even faster than that.

    I think the same people who thought he was just a misunderstood kitchen artist are probably the same ones that didn’t see the recession coming.

    Buh-bye Claycamp, I might even patronize the business now.

  • visitor July 2, 2010 (8:43 pm)

    OK, there is an inside story there, and I’m not getting it. Why all the hate on this guy?

  • Vistor July 2, 2010 (9:41 pm)

    I second that! What is the back story on this guy? What did he do that people are waiting for him to vacate before going to the store? Btw, I went there long ago because of this blog. It was fantastic.

    • WSB July 2, 2010 (10:07 pm)

      We’ve had coverage before – you can search here on his name, or the Swinery, or even just Google in general, because he certainly had an interesting history, written about in other publications as well, before going into business in West Seattle.

  • Kittylove July 2, 2010 (10:09 pm)

    Good riddance. Hopefully the new owner will be a better neighbor.

  • Don July 2, 2010 (10:12 pm)

    Search his name “Vistor” .. No one needs back story on this guy.. let’s just look forward. I would hate to see the poor guy get bashed on here.

    Been to their little Grill Lunch thing; very very tasty. I highly recommend it.

  • Maple July 2, 2010 (10:12 pm)

    I’ve frequented the shop since the first opening and enjoyed many of the products. Service has been friendly enough but uneven –I pre-ordered a couple of times and there was no followup on the Swinery’s end and this kept me away for a while. Also witnessed unjustified poor treatment of a customer on the part of Gabe. Being reliable, consistent, and having a strong customer service ethic is basic and goes a long way.
    Also, sharing/blogging the messy backstory of the business probably wasn’t a great idea –what was the point? It was excuse-ridden and just put way too much negative energy out there.
    I really hope the Swinery can rise above and succeed!!

  • Dave July 2, 2010 (10:13 pm)

    Yeah the staff was openly bitching about not getting paid last time I was in there, at least he realizes that he is a bad businessman. Not everyone is cut out to be a good one, when I heard they spent over 400k setting up shop I thought now how are they going to get out of that hole?

    Good luck to the remaining owner/employees, their products were always top notch!

  • AnotherIdiotInWS July 2, 2010 (10:27 pm)

    Check out Culinary Communion for some great stories. Remember that one, Gabe? I sure hope he is reading the blog today.
    Sorry about your divorce, though. I sure hope you really mean what you say about taking care of your kids. I don’t understand how you will afford it on a prep-cook’s pay, but best of luck in making sure your kids get what they need.

  • grr July 2, 2010 (11:01 pm)

    It takes a pretty big person to face some of the realizations I see Gabe facing, mistakes and all.

    Throw in the divorce on top..ugh. I sincerely wish The Swinery continued thriving business (had a burger last week..drooool), and I wish Gabe success on his path, wisdom to make good on past mistakes, and strength to persevere in realizing his potential, be it as a prep cook, or head chef, or just being the best dad in the world.

    and, let’s not forget the other people involved in the divorce and what THEY are going thru as well.

    and, for those tossing out the vitriol..just make sure to look in the mirror and make sure that somewhere along the way, YOU didn’t make a few mistakes. No need to drag out the details in a public forum…but…glass houses, and all that jazz.

    of all the endeavors, I think Gypsy is the one that, had it just gone ahead and been a regular restuarunt and not some ‘secret underground’ thing, COULD have made as much of an impact on WS as Spring Hill has. Hopefully..lessons learned, and the future will be brighter for ALL parties involved, all the way around.

  • Cheryl July 2, 2010 (11:05 pm)

    So those of us who knew Gabe’s story saw this coming. Doesn’t make him a BAD MAN btw, just a bad businessman. Or at least, that’s the story I’m sticking to since I don’t know him personally and don’t want to judge, lest I get judged.

    Meanwhile, I am wishing TONS of success for the new owners of The Swinery and for the employees as well. I think it’s a wonderful addition to West Seattle and will be more than willing to support the business more frequently now.

  • gtothen July 2, 2010 (11:06 pm)

    At what point do people stay working somewhere when they’re not able to be paid? These aren’t employees, they’re volunteers!
    Also, you’d have a hard time finding a small business owner who turns a living wage profit after only 2+ years – they do exist but I think they’re in the minority, especially in this economy!
    Best of luck to the Swinery as they continue to move forward- sounds like a great plan.

  • Garden_nymph July 2, 2010 (11:27 pm)

    Is the chupacabra bacon ready yet? Mmmm, so smokey.

    Seriously though, I wish the best to all those negatively afffected by Claycamp and with the Swinery the best of luck!

    • WSB July 3, 2010 (12:13 am)

      Christopher has since spoken with James Dillon, Swinery investor/co-owner, and we’ll be publishing that part of the story in the morning, so do check back … TR

  • Garden_nymph July 3, 2010 (1:22 am)

    Personally, I can’t function w/o the WSB, of course I’ll be checking back!

  • charlabob July 3, 2010 (10:27 am)

    Well, Claycamp certainly is a master of one of the major soft arts of entrepreneurialship — self-promotion. Small businesses fail all the time — why do we know so much about this particular person? Hmmmmm?

    Now if he can just find something he’s good at, that doesn’t drag others down with him. When I read about his treatment of the last set of employees, I stopped going — cold turkey. I went from three times a week to driving by and being sad.

  • dawsonct July 3, 2010 (12:34 pm)

    Well, kudos to Gabe for finally understanding his culinary genius doesn’t translate into business acumen. I hope he lands on his feet, and some more astute business owner will realize that his knowledge will be a valuable asset in their kitchen.
    This must be a very emotionally difficult time for Gabe; I hope he makes it through his trials in better shape, and uses it as an opportunity for growth and development. An easy path at this time would be toward resentment, but then the lessons get lost. Keep moving forward, Gabe.

    I have been about as critical of Gabe and his rather flighty business practices as anyone, but as a chef, I don’t believe he has negatively impacted the public in any way, unless you count not being able to get your Swinery bacon fix on a regular schedule.

  • mitch July 3, 2010 (2:08 pm)

    Having been in business for 35+ years I can tell you there’s a big difference between a poor businessman and a dishonest one. A dishonest businessman is one who doesn’t tell his employees that he can’t pay them until they’ve already put in their hours. Any 6th grader can do the math – $1,000 in bank, $4,000 in payroll coming up, time to tell employees. It’s called theft. Bejebus, the guys makes bacon, folks, and the word swine definitely comes to mind. Nice job shilling for him, WSB.

  • WSB July 3, 2010 (2:43 pm)

    As promised, the James Dillon interview:

  • D July 3, 2010 (3:43 pm)

    Absolutely, Mitch! And he’s knowingly been doing this crap for years.

  • bakerphyl July 3, 2010 (4:44 pm)

    I have been following stories about Gabe Claycamp for years, after a couple of negative experiences with he and his wife. This takes the cake. The culinary community in Seattle isn’t that large, and it’s tough enough for the people who are on the up and up – then along come guys, like Gabe, with no scruples who make it worse. Gabe, do us all a favor and get a new line of work.

  • jesse July 3, 2010 (5:55 pm)

    Yadda yadda yadda… Absolutely normal Gabe behavior. Who’s surprised any more?

  • Tracy White July 3, 2010 (7:26 pm)

    West Seattle – the new capital for cynicism and hate!

  • james July 3, 2010 (10:48 pm)

    Dont know Gabe and am sad to see the hateful comments by local residents. Just wanted to say thank you Gabe for trying to start somthing great in West Seattle. I will never take for granted a place I can go and buy healthy good food for my family- a rarity these days.

  • Sammie July 4, 2010 (9:52 am)

    Headed in to get some meat for my grill today — I suggest those of you (who still want to support the business) do the same.

    Mmm. Pig.

  • Harry B July 4, 2010 (10:47 am)

    As a former friend of Gabe’s (and there are many), I have mixed emotions around all of this

    I have watched hubris and bravado diminish his once formidable cooking skills

    I have watched him stiff employees, investors, and customers out of good sums of money to keep his lifestyle and his quasi-Utopian dreams afloat

    And while I used to be quite angry with him, I find myself feeling sad. And I think it is because, like most people, I wanted to believe in him.

    People want dreamers to succeed, because it gives them hope and courage to pursue their own.

    And it’s ultimately heartbreaking when you witness someone so completely lose sight of his dreams and himself that he ends up hurting nearly everyone who cared enough to believe in him.

    Farewell Gabe. I miss the person that you once were, but I can’t say I will miss you now that you are gone

  • Sammie July 4, 2010 (12:02 pm)

    Just got back from the shop, it is incredible what 48 hours can do! The cases are full, staff seems delighted, no complaining that I heard and I even pried a bit.. Not a mention of anything negative. Picked up my steaks for this evening and now we are back home and about to fire up the grill and enjoy these fat t-bone steaks. Thanks NEW Swinery!

  • L July 5, 2010 (4:41 pm)

    Amen Harry.

  • C July 18, 2010 (12:14 pm)

    You’ll with the negative comments-Think about this for a minute-Without Gabriel there is no Swinery. Give the guy a break, many small business failed. At least he tried.

  • Don July 20, 2010 (1:37 pm)

    I have been shopping here for a while now and always thought the product was just fine. I kept going back but I have to tell you; in the few short weeks since Claycamp has been gone… the quality of the food and the atmosphere in the establishment has been stellar. Cuts looks better, customers are chatty, their cases are full and they have all kinds of other products to buy now… We bought a steak and this new in-house produced peppercorn cream sauce, it. was. amazing.

    I am sure with the strings Claycamp has that he will be fine but in the mean time, well done Swinery, you finally truly are what you always tried to be and I thank you for your commitment to the cause!

  • WSB July 20, 2010 (4:42 pm)

    Don’t bother trying to post rumors here. We’ve already checked that one out on a multitude of fronts including the authorities in the situation. Completely false.

  • jesse July 20, 2010 (6:16 pm)

    Well, you can’t refute what is easily accessed public information. The Swinery had a less than stellar inspection last week. What’s interesting is that many of the same items have been cited before. You know, when a different staff was involved. Too bad certain people are spinning this out of control.

    Routine Inspection/Field Review 07/15/2010

    -Inadequate hand washing facilities
    -Noncompliance with risk control plans, variances, or mobile food unit plan of operation
    -Variance not obtained for specialized processing methods
    -Improper cold holding temperatures (>45° F)
    -Insects, rodents, animals present; entrance uncontrolled
    Consultation/Education – Field 05/03/2010

    Routine Inspection/Field Review 01/12/2010

    -Variance not obtained for specialized processing methods
    -Noncompliance with risk control plans, variances, or mobile food unit plan of operation
    Consultation/Education – Field 12/09/2009

    Routine Inspection/Field Review 12/02/2009

    -Variance not obtained for specialized processing methods
    -Improper labeling, signage

  • cocktailhour August 4, 2010 (4:08 pm)

    I don’t see a separate story on this yet on the blog, but there are new owners now and they have hired Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez formerly of Harvest Vine and Txori. This is an amazing culinary coup. I have been watching this saga since back when Culinary Communion was on on Queen Anne. It will be interesting to see the original business/concept under different management. Charcuterie and specialty meat is so trandy now.

Sorry, comment time is over.