Tuesday, January 24, 2023
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A top-rated Netflix series and a burgeoning “plant-based” vegan empire in Rhode Island have something in common.
Chef Matthew Kenney.
While starring on the Netflix documentary series Bad Vegan, Kenney made headlines four years ago for bringing his plant-based restaurant concept to Rhode Island.
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As GoLocal first reported in 2019, Kenney had set his sights on Providence to open a vegan food hall – Plant City.
“Having grown up in New England, I love coming back to the area, so expanding our brand to Providence is particularly exciting,” Kenney, who grew up in Maine, told GoLocal.
Kenney now boasts eight locations in Plant City, Rhode Island on its corporate website. Five are actually located at the Plant City Food Hall on South Water Street; Speakeasy “345” is located across from the parking lot. There are two separate Plant City X locations in Middletown and Warwick.
He advertises dozens of stocks from Costa Rica to Tel Aviv. The listing on his website for Rhode Island does not include a newly announced location at Bryant University.
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While Kenney has been busy expanding his empire, his past business woes have been brought up in the role at streaming giant Netflix.
Featured on Netflix
“Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives describes Netflix’s series, which documents how New York City vegan chef Sarma Melngailis opened Pure Food and Wine with Kenney in 2004.
The series then looks at how she met and bonded with Shane Fox, the show’s focus – but first there was Kenney.
“I was a fan of Matthew before I ever met him,” Mengailis said in the documentary. “I found out he was writing a book, so I met him to interview him [him] about working on this cookbook.”
According to the Netflix documentary, the two became a couple and then opened the vegan restaurant in New York with the backing of investor Jeffrey Chodorow.
“I think it was ahead of its time,” said Nikki King Bennett, the show’s former Pure Food chef. “It was an upscale, upscale, vegan experience.”
According to the documentary, cracks between the couple soon began to show.
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“Every deal… there’s usually a story behind it. I think from the outside people see, oh you have a restaurant, it’s full, there are tons of people in there, you have to be successful, they have to make a lot of money…they assume everything is great,” he said Melngailis into the camera. “But they don’t really see behind the scenes … there’s a backstory, things have been challenging over the years.”
“I’ve always been very careful with money, and he was a lot less careful,” she continued, referring to Kenney.
The series then deals with their breakup.
“Matthew Kenney wasn’t a respected businessman,” Vanity Fair journalist Allen Salkin said on the Netflix show. “There was a lot of talk in New York that Matthew was a guy who didn’t pay his bills … who pissed off a lot of investors and caused trouble.”
“I started to get more and more angry … and we didn’t get along,” Melngailis said of her relationship with Kenney.
“Our breakup became a very public thing, and during that time people would come to the restaurant — they would come in to see some kind of reality TV fight,” Melngailis continued. “We were both there. I didn’t go, he didn’t go.”
Khodorov was reportedly forced to intervene.
“I got a call from Matthew … he said to me, I can’t continue working with Sarma, so you have to eject her from the restaurant,” Khodorov said on camera. “Then I got a call from Sarma.”
“Then I thought about it — I said my options are, I have Matthew Kenney, who’s a very talented chef … who had a bad financial history,” added Chadorow. “And on the other hand, I had Sarma … she was a very accomplished person in her own right.”
“So I chose Sarma. And I told Matthew to go,” he added. “Which, frankly, I think shocked him.”
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Cook goes on
According to multiple publications, Kenney faced a series of court cases.
“Vegan celebrity chef Matthew Kenney is facing a lawsuit from his Plant Food + Wine Miami landlord, The Sacred Space, alleging that he failed to pay rent for the duration of his lease, violated his non-compete clause and failed to pay sales taxes, is The Miami Herald reporting,” Eater reported in 2017.
The Miami Herald reported in 2018 that Plant Miami and Kenney had settled the lawsuit.
“This Miami vegan restaurant is thriving after leaving its celebrity chef,” read the headline in the Herald.
The Herald wrote:
“[Owner Karla] Dascal settled a lawsuit in late November against California vegan and raw food chef Matthew Kenney, the award-winning chef who brought his plant-based restaurant Plant Food and Wine to South Florida. The restaurant presented sophisticated vegan and vegetarian cuisine that Miami had never seen before. However, he also brought a number of bad deals with him.
Dascal sued him in March, alleging he owed more than $1.4 million in rent and breached his contract by lending his name to a second plant-based restaurant in South Florida, Plnthouse in Miami Beach. It was the latest in a series of lawsuits against Kenney, the Miami Herald reported in a July investigation. Countering unspecified damages, Kenney said Dascal did not have the right to take over the restaurant and use its recipes. They settled and Dascal renamed the Plant Miami restaurant.
Because of all this, the restaurant never closed. The original daily chefs, a couple who have been at the restaurant since it opened, stayed and invented new plant-based menus for loyal fans.”
Neither Kenney nor Plant City owner Kim Anderson responded to a request for comment about Kenney’s current involvement in the Rhode Island restaurants.
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