IT WAS A light-bulb moment for Ms. Melngailis, who with Mr. Kenney repaired to Maine, where they vacationed in the summers, to experiment with a raw-food diet. “I just felt like a fog had been lifted from my head, which is a really nice feeling,” she said. Mr. Chodorow came on board as a backer in what he explained recently was a conciliatory gesture after he had tried—and failed—to buy Mr. Kenney’s leasehold at Commune, on 20th Street, and wound up circumventing him to get the lease directly from the landlord. “I’d done some reading, and I thought, ‘Oh, very interesting,’ not for my lifestyle, but they were both on it and they felt great,” Mr. Chodorow said. He saw no signs of potential strife between the two. “They’d come in for a meeting and she’d have her little sneakers on that on the back said, ‘I love Matthew!’” he remembered. When they did split, he sided with Ms. Melngailis. “I thought she was fully capable culinarily, and she had the business background,” Mr. Chodorow said. “He had a lot of unsuccessful business ventures.” (Mr. Chodorow later sued Mr. Kenney for poaching staff from Pure Food for a restaurant he subsequently opened, Heirloom, which has since closed.)
Reached by email, Mr. Kenney said he was out of the country and unavailable for comment. “On a side note, I’m sure Jeffrey and I in fact do not remember things the same way,” he added.
A tabloid battle ensued, with Mr. Kenney accusing Ms. Melngailis of having an affair with one of the restaurant’s managers and of subjecting him to physical abuse, and Ms. Melngailis countering with statements like “he is reminding me of David Gest.”
“He was very clever in that everything he claimed was technically true, but was generally exaggerated so it came out sounding really dramatic, like the assault charge he filed,” said Ms. Melngailis (now cohabiting happily across the street from Pure Food with a musician who once worked in her juice bar). “Yes, I threw grapefruits at him, but I think that’s funny!”
WORSE THAN THE tabloid drama was the debt Ms. Melngailis said Mr. Kenney saddled her with after she invested in some of his failed ventures. “When I met him, I had a lot of money,” she said. “Within two years, I was in debt by the same amount, more actually. That’s a burden I’ve been carrying around for seven years now. It’s exhausting. And debilitating. It really sucks, actually. And most people have no idea, so it feels sort of lonely carrying around. Meanwhile, I’ve been building One Lucky Duck all this time with little to no investment capital, but it’s what I’m meant to do, and at some point the debt will be gone. It’s like playing a game with a big handicap. It gets in the way, but I can still win.”
“I want to build a really big business,” Ms. Melngailis said. Still: “This not a Jamba Juice—it’s a much more careful and personal kind of thing.” She admitted she’d been approached many times to do television, but “my goal isn’t to be a TV person,” she said. “I’m a little camera-shy.” She views herself as more Richard Branson than Martha Stewart: brand mastermind, not the brand itself. In addition to the juice bar and takeaways, she’s mulling a high-end dessert shop where she’d sell Pure Food’s popular array of ice creams, and a new headquarters for oneluckyduck.com, which she said does about half a million dollars in sales each year and is highly “scalable.” She’s also had meetings about a possible Pure Food outpost in Japan.
The deal for the series of juice bars and takeaways would have been a big break, but, speaking by phone several days after pulling out, Ms. Melngailis said her only regret was that “it looks like I went in there and tried to do it and it didn’t work. That place could have been awesome!” She hinted, in fact, that should her former investor give up the space, she’d be thrilled to scrounge up the money to return to Chelsea Market on her own. “What I don’t want to do is let anyone else take control.”
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