Restaurant magnate John Kunkel had an amazingly successful run. He opened Lime Fresh Mexican Grill 13 years ago and then, after expanding it to 16 restaurants, sold the whole operation for an impressive $24 million to Ruby Tuesday in 2012. He also opened South Beach's Yardbird Southern Table & Bar in 2011. The restaurant, known for its fried chicken and extensive bourbon selection, still commands long waits for coveted tables. And Kunkel opened Swine Southern Table & Bar, also a significant success, in Coral Gables.
In 2016, he sought to grow that success through a fast-casual chicken place in the Gables called Spring Chicken. He quickly expanded it to Fort Lauderdale and South Beach.
But earlier this month, Kunkel, founder and CEO of the corporation 50 Eggs, shuttered the Fort Lauderdale Spring Chicken location. That closure left about 18 employees without jobs, though Kunkel said they were paid through the end of the two-week pay period and offered jobs elsewhere in the company.
Then, last week, the Miami Beach Spring Chicken outpost also shuttered, leaving the windows on the Alton Road eatery, which was once Lime and later BTW (Burgers, Tacos, Whiskey), covered with brown paper.
"It was not performing," Kunkel wrote in an email, while noting he has yet to determine what will become of the space. He declined to say whether those employees would be offered work within the chain.
The Miami Beach Spring Chicken closed suddenly, according to former assistant general manager Laura Lopez. "From what I understood, the general manager did not know of the impending closure," Lopez told New Times in an email. "Both locations had not been performing well for months."
And though the one remaining location, in Coral Gables, has drawn crowds, its buzz has been muffled somewhat by the nearby Shake Shack, which also serves chicken in a casual setting.
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So what does it all mean for Kunkel? It's hard to say. But questions have plagued the restaurateur since 50 Eggs' popular Khong River House closed two years ago with plans to reopen at a different location. That never happened.
Kunkel's genius has been obvious for years. But he has also been highly sensitive to coverage, particularly negative, of his businesses.
After New Times reported on the Fort Lauderdale closure of Spring Chicken, Kunkel sent a petulant email to the newspaper stating that this food critic "seems to be looking for an opportunity to find something negative to print about me or 50 Eggs," adding that the writer is "not interested in the fact that we've created thousands upon thousands of jobs over the years, nor that we offered FTL employees positions that we didn't need just to keep them with the company to respect their hard work and contributions... or that we paid them through the pay period when we we're not obligated to do so."
Strangely, this critic had reported on the employees being offered jobs.