The divorce between chef David Bouley and restaurateur Warner LeRoy may be final, but their rivalry may not die so easily.
Sources familiar with Mr. Bouley’s culinary operations said the talented and mercurial chef has shelved plans to open Bouley at Home, a three-story TriBeCa emporium of fresh, organic produce, meats, fish, prepared foods and kitchen utensils.
Those sources told The Transom that Mr. Bouley has relinquished the 18,000-square-foot space at 166 Duane Street (the building is also known as the Duane Park Building and 25 Hudson Street) in which he had planned to open Bouley at Home. According to one of the sources, the lease on the space–which consisted of space on the ground floor and in the basement, as well as a second-floor apartment that was to be converted for commercial use–was repurchased by Hudu Partners, which owns the retail space in the building. Stories of how Mr. Bouley came to give up the space vary. One rumor is that Mr. Bouley had been forced to give up the space when he failed to make the necessary payments. But one of the sources who spoke to The Transom, on the condition of anonymity, said that Hudu Partners’ reclaiming of the property transpired “completely amicably.” Officials from Hudu Partners did not return phone calls.
Hand in hand with the news that Mr. Bouley had at least temporarily downscaled his vision for a TriBeCa culinary empire came word that Mr. Bouley’s former partner, Warner LeRoy, was eyeing the space that Mr. Bouley had given up. Making things even more interesting, Hudu Partners has a LeRoy connection: The company is involved with relatives of Steven Roth, the Vornado Realty Trust chairman who is reportedly the financial sugar daddy behind Mr. LeRoy’s current expansion of the Russian Tea Room. Mr. LeRoy did not return phone calls seeking comment, but a spokesman said she was not aware of Mr. LeRoy’s interest in the TriBeCa space and that nevertheless his relationship with
Mr. Bouley remained “cordial.”
Yet, one source familiar with the situation said one should not read too much into the Roth-Hudu connection. That same source, however, did not deny that Mr. LeRoy’s interest in the Duane Park space might be at least a little bit motivated by his past with Mr. Bouley.
Mr. Bouley and Mr. LeRoy’s two-and-a-half-year culinary partnership, which would have involved Mr. LeRoy in Mr. Bouley’s TriBeCa plans, turned acrimonious and litigious in 1998. After the two settled, Mr. Bouley went it alone. Without the benefit of Mr. LeRoy’s deep pockets, the chef went to Crédit Suisse First Boston for an $8.5 million loan. He is also said to be working with the Wegman supermarket family on some aspects of his plan. Mr. Bouley did not return phone calls from The Transom about the state of his culinary dream. It is a dream that Mr. Bouley has had to repeatedly refashion and postpone since 1996 when he closed Bouley, the restaurant that had made him a culinary superstar, and embarked on his plan of expansion.
In the last few months, Mr. Bouley has expanded the space of his Bouley Bakery, and his Web site indicates that his Viennese-style restaurant, Danube, will open in late June. (Some observers say mid-July.) The source was under the impression that Mr. Bouley had not given up on his idea for Bouley at Home, but added: “I think David has realized that he can’t do everything from a time standpoint, and this was the least profitable of the businesses.”
The biggest question mark is the future of the old Mohawk Building, at the corner of Duane and Hudson streets, which was slated to house Bouley International, a complex that would feature a cafe, the reincarnation of his restaurant Bouley, a cooking school and a culinary research institute. Work has yet to begin on this building, but one source familiar with the situation said he didn’t expect work to begin until at least 2000, or until the one-two punch of Bouley Bakery and Danube starts throwing off some serious cash.
AOL in Divorce Case
When the divorce case of Jesse Kornbluth, editorial director of America Online, and his wife, author Annette Tapert, was assigned a docket number in December 1998, the couple had already been separated for more than a year, and few who knew them thought that the denouement of their marriage would be an acrimonious one. “Annette and Jesse are so amicable it hurts,” wrote Liz Smith on Oct. 2, 1997, noting that Mr. Kornbluth was moving out but would live “only 150 feet from his wife and her children, to whom he is close.”
Barely six months after Mr. Kornbluth officially filed for divorce, New York’s social set is talking about a wrinkle in the negotiations that threatens to upset the couple’s strong postmarital relations. Friends of the couple told The Transom that Ms. Tapert ( The Power of Glamour: The Women Who Defined the Magic of Stardom and Slim: Memories of a Rich and Imperfect Life ) is pushing for a cut of the valuable AOL stock options that Mr. Kornbluth received when he began working full-time for AOL in May 1997. While the value of the options depends on, among other variables, when the options vest, estimates of the value of Mr. Kornbluth’s options have ranged from $5 million to $20 million.
When it comes to divorce, New York is an equitable distribution state. So Ms. Tapert’s alleged interest in Mr. Kornbluth’s options is not unusual, except that, as friends point out, Ms. Tapert’s financial picture has flourished independently of Mr. Kornbluth. She is engaged to Greenwich, Conn.-based newsprint manufacturer and art collector Joe Allen. In July 1998, the couple purchased a $7.35 million, seven-room, David Easton-decorated co-op apartment overlooking the Frick Museum at 2 East 70th Street. Mr. Allen declined to comment for this story, although he did confirm that he and Ms. Tapert were engaged.
Given Ms. Tapert’s recent good fortune, there are some friends who are of the opinion that Ms. Tapert should get on with her life. But one source familiar with the situation said that Ms. Tapert wants to have “some kind of nest egg protection for her children.”
Ms. Tapert did not return calls seeking comment, and Mr. Kornbluth declined to discuss the matter, but through him, the couple issued a joint statement: “We regret that the divorce of two people who aren’t public figures has become a matter of media interest. There is one fact in this story: Our divorce hasn’t been finalized. Everything else is speculation, and inaccurate at that. We look forward to the time when our divorce is official and the speculation ends.”
Oh, Behave !
A long-held rule of movie-premiere etiquette states that celebrities must not experience an elevated heart rate when it comes to getting prime cinema seats. On June 7, that rule was broken in a surreal way.
The setting was an invitation-only screening of New Line Cinema’s Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me . A celebrity crowd that included actors Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon and their three kids; comedian Jerry Seinfeld; director Jonathan Demme; Naomi, Wynonna and Ashley Judd; Dr. Bob Arnott and comedian Al Franken (wearing khaki shorts and a cellular phone clipped to his belt) arrived at City Cinema One on Third Avenue and 60th Street to find that–as is usually the case with film premieres–much of the theater had been taped off and reserved for celebrity seating.
Alas, the theater’s air-conditioning was not working, and after the crowd stewed in its own juices for a good half-hour, New Line president Michael Lynne announced that the screening was being moved three blocks down Third Avenue to the Gotham Cinema. Before Mr. Lynne finished his sentence, much of the audience was dashing up the aisles, driven by the unspoken knowledge that there would be no reserved seats at the next theater . Out on Third Avenue, the crowd blew by Mr. Robbins, who had become separated from Ms. Sarandon and the kids. Mr. Robbins, who was wearing tiny sunglasses, seemed torn between keeping up with the masses and finding his brood. “Where’s my family?” he was heard saying.
The extremely moist crowd ended up massed outside the glass doors of the Gotham. On the other side of the doors, a group of theater workers stood looking terrified.
“Let us in! Let us in!” some premiere-goers began chanting. “Cincinnati, 1979,” said one tall, bearded man, referring to the The Who
concert in which 11 people were trampled.
A tall theater employee squeezed through the door and shouted something about nobody getting in until an orderly line was formed. A few people sneered. A woman who was with Michael Gelman, executive producer of Live With Regis and Kathie Lee , tugged at his sleeve and tried to get him to leave. Mr. Gelman shrugged her off. The doors opened and the crowd pressed forward, strange hands against sweat-soaked linen-clad backs. A 50-yard, obstacle-laden dash to the seats lay ahead, and the hard smile on Mr. Gelman’s face suggested that he was looking forward to the challenge.
The Transom Also Hears …
The surreal experience that awaited The Transom at the Austin Powers screening was preceded by an unusual encounter with Public Advocate Mark Green. Mr. Green approached The Transom at a cocktail party prior to the screening and shook our hand. “Enjoyed our lunch,” he said. The Transom thought back on 15 years of dining experiences and replied: “We’ve never had lunch.” Mr. Green did not falter. “Well, then, we should,” he said, then jetted into the crowd.