Controversy has erupted over the closure of celebrity chef Maneet Chauhan’s Nashville restaurant, Chaatable, announced on Friday, August 26. In interviews with WWLTV and Eater, former workers allege the closure was a response to recent demands and organizing, while management tells Eater it had previously communicated the restaurant’s impending closure to employees.
It seems much of the conflict surrounds timing and communication: Workers from the four-year-old Sylvan Heights restaurant say that six months ago they discovered, on their own, that the Chaatable space was up for lease. In a statement sent to Eater on behalf of Morph Hospitality and Chauhan on Monday, the Chaatable management team maintains it shared that information with staff directly, writing, “Management and ownership personally talked to team members multiple times about the possibility of a closure and the hope of a relocation.” Former Chaatable front-of-house employee Paul Sponsler disputes this, telling Eater there was no official communication whatsoever, just one private conversation between Chauhan and a staff member.
Front-of-house workers began discussing plans to declare their intent to unionize during this time, Sponsler says, eventually securing union cards about a month ago. On Friday, August 19, Chaatable workers sent an email with a request to meet “to talk about the state of our restaurant as well as our jobs before the official closing date of Chaatable, preferably within the next week,” says Sponsler, an email that was sent anonymously, “to prevent any kind of retaliation.”
On Tuesday, August 23, according to another former employee, Jeffrey Puinno, Chauhan showed up and spoke with workers at the restaurant along with others on the management team. Chauhan and the general manager told staff about plans to relocate the restaurant, Puinno says, allegedly giving the caveat that employees would be given reasonable advance notice. Puinno says it was the first time staff was officially told the space was on the market. “Maneet called us all family but had no idea who most of us were or who was supposed to be there last week,” they say.
On Thursday, August 25, Chauhan returned to Chaatable and spoke to a number of employees individually, allegedly asking one or more if they were aware of organizing efforts. It was the next day, Friday, August 26, that former employees say they arrived at the restaurant to find a cheery note on the door announcing the closure, reading in part:
“So sorry to have missed you! Chaatable has enjoyed serving and “chaating” with y’all! Sorry, we are closed at this location, busy looking for another spot.
A similar message was posted to Instagram on Friday, with both signed by co-founders Chauhan and Vivek Deora and the Morph Hospitality Team.
Chaatable’s statement says that the timing of the closure was the direct result of the team receiving an email from their landlord “agreeing to the necessary lease assignment after a long period of ongoing discussions.” It further states that a $500 “severance/goodwill” payment has been paid out for each employee, given in person to those who were at Chaatable on Friday and mailed to those who were “no call no shows” along with separation notices. But former Chaatable workers interviewed dispute the claim that workers were no-call, no-shows, and say employees who showed for their shifts, on time, were greeted with the note.
Former employees began going public on Friday with allegations and demands on the Instagram account of ROC Music City, a Nashville workers center for restaurant employees. Workers listed four demands publicly: Two weeks of compensation for each employee fired; offers at the restaurant group’s other concepts; transparent communication from ownership; and a public promise to stop retaliating against workers who are organizing. On Sunday, August 28, ROC Music City alleged on Instagram that Morph Hospitality had hired security and put up barricades at the restaurant.
Chaatable’s statement to Eater says multiple former employees are already working at the Mockingbird, a Chauhan and Morph Hospitality restaurant that opened in 2017, and that they told employees if the group’s other restaurants — Chauhan Ale and Masala House and Tánsuŏ — are hiring, they would be at the top of the list. The statement also says Chaatable closing was a business decision: “The fact is Chaatable closed because it was not a sustainable business post-COVID. We were struggling to get optimal revenues and were running in losses for several months,” the statement reads. “It did not close because of any unionization efforts.”
The management team says it “saddens” them that “a small minority of Chaatable workers are making multiple false claims.” Former employees contend they want the realities of the closure to be public. “I just want people to know what really happened. We just think they handled the whole situation wrong,” Puinnon says.
Chauhan and Deora opened Chaatable in 2018 to a great deal of local hype, having already opened three Nashville restaurants: Chauhan Ale and Masala House in 2014, Chinese restaurant Tánsuŏ, and modern diner the Mockingbird, both in 2017. Chauhan was a popular culinary figure for years before that, however; she published a cookbook, Flavors of my World, in 2013, which was around the same time she competed on Iron Chef and the Next Iron Chef and landed a regular gig as a judge on Food Network’s Chopped.
Former Chaatable workers are providing updates from the ROC Music City Instagram.