Loose Cannon: Chris Cannon Sounds off on Bitter Breakups, Fear, and All'Onda
Last week, we checked in on All'Onda (22 East 13th Street, 212-231-2236), the new Japanese-influenced Italian restaurant from chef Chris Jaeckle and restaurateur Chris Cannon. Our first taste was promising, and others seem to agree: So far the early word on the place is unanimously good.
All'Onda via Facebook
But to cover the opening alone misses a big part of the story. Much has been made of Cannon's bitter breakup with Altamarea group, the umbrella organization for Michael White's ever-growing international portfolio, which includes Marea, Ai Fiori, Osteria Morini, and, more recently, Costata, the Butterfly, and Ristorante Morini, which just barely opened uptown.
Before all that, a young, not-yet-famous Michael White was living in Wisconsin with his family when Chris Cannon called him in to take over midtown outposts Alto and L'Impero (later renamed Convivio), after Scott Conant took off for greener pastures (read: to open Scarpetta).
With White in the kitchen, the restaurants (and White's career) took off, and Cannon and White, with capital from Ahmass Fakahany, opened Marea in 2009.
But trouble was brewing. Cannon says for him, the story began to get ugly in 2008. The economy had tanked, but he and White wanted to build on the momentum they had going from Alto and Convivio: "It was like, Michael [White] and I were hotter than hell and doing a great job, and we were like, 'We want to do another restaurant, we've got to do this thing now," and they turned to Ahmass Fakahany for capital to open Marea. The restaurant got three stars in the New York Times, best new restaurant in the country in GQ, and two Michelin stars.
Not long after, Cannon was ejected from his seat at the Altamarea table. The ensuing White-Fakahany-Cannon divorce was plenty publicized, but Cannon hasn't said much about it publicly -- until now.
We ask Cannon what mistakes he learned from during that time. He avoids naming names but says he was really nervous about giving too much control to one investor. Read between the lines, however, and find Altamarea principal Ahmass Fakahany's name in bold lettering. "The one mistake I made was allowing one investor to basically define everything; I had no leverage," Cannon says. "I would never have done that but for the fact that it was October 2008 and the whole economy shut off...access to capital was completely cut off."
After Marea's success, though, Cannon felt better about his position: "After we got the stars I thought, 'Well, he'd be out of his mind to get rid of me.' Well, months later, he got rid of me." It was late 2010 and Cannon had just assembled a FOH team for Osteria Morini: "I even got [the sommelier] from Jean Georges to come over -- I did all the purchasing and put everything together, and then my partners decided to eliminate me."
Cannon kept Alto and Convivio, and White/Fakahany got Marea and the other newer places, which White had a hand in building and continues to oversee today. Then, in early 2011, Cannon abruptly closed his restaurants, auctioned off his wine stock, and headed for the hills. Hosts had to call the day's reservations and cancel them. In a gross display of unsavory behavior, bartenders pillaged the bar for bottles. Rumors circulated; people landed in the unemployment line.
The closures stemmed from fallout from the break and an ugly tip-sharing lawsuit (which named Marea as a co-defendant), and Cannon retreated to New Jersey for some soul-searching: "I spent a year thinking about, you know, what do I want to be doing, and I realized, yeah, I do want to do this. It was stupid to even think that way because the only thing I like, or that excites me is restaurants. And that's all I've ever done."
At that point, we begin to say that it must have been devastating to close the restaurants, which were so beloved, so critically acclaimed. Cannon doesn't even let us finish: "No! You know, it wasn't even devastating. When you've done a lot in your life, and you've seen so many things happen over the course of the years, it's just like, keep your eyes forward and keep going. You can do great things over and over and over again. It's not a big deal...At a certain point, I was like, 'Am I going to let these guys, who are these total -- whatever they did to me was not ethically wonderful -- am I going to let these people make me hate the thing that I love most in the world?' And I was like, 'No fucking way.' You know, there's no fucking way I'm going to do that. So that's driving me a lot now."
On the next page, Cannon dives into All'Onda