Monday, October 22, 2012

Busted! Scamwich Artist Unmasked by Local Restaurant Owners

Posted By on Mon, Oct 22, 2012 at 6:00 AM

Update: (Wednesday, October 24) Read how the Scamwich Artist returned to one of the restaurants mentioned in this report the day after it was published.

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Local chef and restaurateur Mike Johnson didn't just fall off the Sysco truck yesterday. A graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, the man has mapped out a restaurant résumé that begins when he was fifteen and spans two continents; on this one alone he has toiled in kitchens from Napa to LA, Chicago (Charlie Trotter's) to New Orleans (Emeril's). On the home front, Johnson has had a hand in establishments as diverse as French-inspired Roxane, Spanish tapas joint BARcelona, Greek small-plates hotspot Momos, Cajun/Creole/Cuban funhouse Boogaloo and the reincarnated dessert café Cyrano's.

And yet, after more than two decades in the culinary trenches, Johnson, who recently opened the Olivette barbecue joint Sugarfire Smokehouse (9200 Olive Boulevard, Suite 114; 314-997-2301), still has new and colorful battle stories to tell.

Such as the one that transpired last month, which Gut Check has taken the liberty of titling...

The Scamwich Artist

On September 26, Johnson opened his newest venture, Sugarfire Smokehouse. On the evening of the 27th, as he was cleaning up after a bustling second day of business, his phone rang. On the other end of the line was an unsatisfied customer who said the restaurant had botched his order when he'd stopped in to pick up lunch.

Specifically, the caller said the sides he'd chosen to accompany his sandwiches had been "all messed up." He demanded compensation.

"This guy tells me, 'I was in there earlier and got a carry-out order,'" Johnson recounts. "It was busy, so I didn't remember him."

Johnson was also puzzled. The man said he'd ordered three grilled-chicken sandwiches. But there's no chicken sandwich on Sugarfire's menu.

"Are you sure you didn't have the turkey?" Johnson says he asked.

No, the caller insisted, he'd ordered grilled-chicken sandwiches.

"Are you sure you're calling the right place?" Johnson persisted. "I don't have chicken, and I don't have a grill here."

At this point, Johnson says, the caller corrected himself. "It was the turkey sandwich," he said.

In spite of the dubious details, Johnson agreed to compensate the man for the mixup and told him to come by after lunchtime the next day.

Later that same evening, Natasha Creel and Emily Matthes, owners of one of Johnson's previous projects, Roxane (12 North Meramec Avenue, Clayton; 314-721-7700), stopped in to have a look around their friend's new place. When they overheard Johnson telling his executive chef about the strange phone conversation, they couldn't help interrupting.

The scenario, you see, sounded uncannily familiar. A man had been alleging similar snafus and demanding compensation from other area restaurants -- including Roxane.

What's more, Creel and Matthes said, thanks to their phone's caller ID they knew the man's name: Was Johnson's unsatisfied customer by any chance a Mitchell Kerman?

Johnson checked his caller ID log.

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