The Busy Chef E-mail File and What We Told The Brooklyn Paper a Year Ago That They Didn’t Print
A little over a year ago, BHB began receiving information from people claiming to have ties with accused fraudster Dan “Busted Chef” Kaufman. They spun tales of someone who was capable of lying to your face while robbing you blind. They claimed on internet message boards that he had fathered a child in New England and had not paid child support. We even heard from ex-girlfriends who claimed the “Chef” had lied to them as well. After a little Googling we uncovered evidence of Kaufman’s secret history in Vermont and of leaving his partners in a Boston restaurant holding the bag to the tune of $40K in back rent.
Where there’s smoke there’s fire, we thought. Or perhaps Kaufman was a tenacious businessman who had made some enemies and they were licking their wounds and looking for revenge any way possible. In that case this anecdotal evidence would suggest that there was just a lot of sour grapes coming our way from New England. Was Kaufman a captain of industry or a rascal? Was there more to the story?
Our first (and only) face to face encounter with Kaufman happened the weekend Busy Chef opened. We walked in carrying a bag from Garden of Eden. Kaufman noticed it and claimed that we could buy the same baked goods at Busy Chef because GOE was a client who bought Busy Chef’s “baked on premises” items for their store. An unsolicited lie right off the bat. Still, maybe he’s just hustlin’ we thought.
As the great Hunter S. Thompson once said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” And so they did. We began corresponding with someone identifying himself as “Michael Burak” who claimed to be the marketing contact at Busy Chef. We ran a Q&A, (done via email…we have day jobs, y’know) with him in March 2007. After that ran, we sent him some follow up questions based upon comments made on BHB. His response:
I reminded myself as I remembered our email conversation several weeks ago that I owe you answers to a couple of questions.
Our culinary team consists of:
Which supermarkets have we partnered with:
This has taken longer than we had expected, but we will announce as soon as we are able to.
Also, I would like to point out our community involvement this weekend at the local Public School where we donated food, and raffled off a cake. We are open to any ideas, or suggestions on how we can be the best neighbor possible.
Thank you for all your feedback so far, please keep it coming.
“Chef Cofee” we suspected was an alias Kaufman was using. . So we asked “Burak”, who we were starting to think was a Kaufman alias as well. (A local reporter who had interviewed “Burak” told us, as we recall, that it was a telephone interview and didn’t know what he looked like.) Surely if the “Chef” had nothing to cover up about his past then this question would have been easy to answer truthfully. Then we got this email:
If you’d like to discuss via the phone our community involvement, please provide me with a time that works for you, and I’ll give you a number to reach me.
Chef Cofee is one of our Chef’s, we do not employ a Dan Kaufman, which I think was identified incorrectly in a Brooklyn Paper Story. Would you like to discuss Chef Cofee’s background during our phone conversation? As far as who the “chef” is, all of our team is pretty active on the floor.
I think I do have a lead on the prankster, would you like the inside scoop?
Enoy your day,
While we were never able to confirm the existence of “Burak” (we recently emailed his address but have not received a response we received a response from the AOL address used while Burak was corresponding with us. The person using that address told us he was no longer affiliated with Busy Chef.) it was becoming clear that the Busy Chef operation was not being straight with us. Not to mention the fact that one of the first rules of “the con” is to offer to solve a problem for someone to gain their mark’s trust (thanks Jazz for that tidbit).
“Burak” soon became a little menacing after seeing reader comments posted on a story we did about Oven. Still, the half-truths and lies cannot be missed:
Within your string of postings in response to your blog on Oven. There is a post one stating the the Busy Chef is “shady”, and as well that we are somehow connected to a restaurant in Boston.
These remarks are harmful to business, especially when they are false. With someone with such a vested interest in the community, I would ask that you prevent anything from being posted that is not true.
If someone does not like our food, or coffee, and they post a review, we take that to heart and work to improve ourselves. But in attacking us personally, how do we respond? How do you respond?
This corner has been such a problem for so long. Business is going very well, it seems like there is more activity here than there has been in the last ten years. I just hope you are with me in preventing postings that are false, and harmful the community.
And them “Burak” disappeared. But Chef Dan, who has a writing style remarkably similar to “Burak” and an originating IP address that was exactly the same, was able to fire off this missive to BHB in response, again, to reader comments (he asked we not print the letter but hey…):
Once again posts on the blog have gotten way to personal. I am fine
with those who do not not like our food or service. We can work on
these issues. There are many hard working people here, and it is
unfair to let those with personal grudges against me, to take it out
on our business, employees, and customers.
I have filed a police report, as now these posts are generally
followed by phone calls telling myself or one of our employees to go
to the brooklynheightsblog to view comments about me.
I have never met you, nor probably the majority of your bloggers, and
the attention is warranted, we have a high profile on a corner which
has had allot of failure.
But, using your site as a way to hurt me, is completely wrong. I am
being stalked and harassed.
Please do not post this, nor reply to it, as I just wanted to let you
know my thoughts.
Earlier in 2007, we thought it would be in the public interest to share the information we had with “professionals” who we felt would be better equipped to investigate and present the story. After all, we were a bunch of BLOGGERS doing this for fun and to meet our neighbors, not Woodward and Bernstein. We thought, the Mainstream Media would know how to handle a potentially juicy story like this, especially if it meant saving the citizens of Brooklyn Heights from becoming victims of fraud. Right?
Not so much.
We spoke with a reporter at the Brooklyn Paper around May 2007. The writer expressed interest in following up the story. Within two weeks the reporter left the newspaper. Around that time, I was approached by Brooklyn Paper editor-in-chief Gersh Kuntzman to fill in as their Brooklyn Heights columnist while he found a replacement for a departed reporter. When we sat down to go over what was expected from my fill-in column I shared the Busy Chef info that had come into BHB.
While the paper wrote reviews and news items on Busy Chef it did not delve into his past until Kaufman’s arrest. There was a time when courageous journalists like Mike Wallace would go door knocking and confront alleged con men who appeared to be hanging their shingle in a new town. The Brooklyn Paper article published this week is one that we’d hoped would have been written before there was an arrest or alleged victims to write about in our area. Maybe I didn’t sell what we had hard enough – the Boston rent lawsuit, the alleged theft in Vermont and outstanding arrest warrant (later dropped), the emails and message board claims. The paper published nothing, apparently not pursuing the story. This passage from today’s story in the B’Paper didn’t make the consquences of last year’s lack of coverage look any better:
“We expect that the amount and the time frame [of the scam] will grow,” a law enforcement source told The Brooklyn Paper.
But there may have been reasons, other than thinking this story wasn’t newsworthy, to avoid digging deeper into the story before Kaufman’s run in with the law in Brooklyn. Busy Chef’s advertising was extremely prominent in the online and print editions of the Brooklyn Paper. Kaufman was, until his arrest, featured in the paper’s marketing materials. Did this give him the opportunity to influence the paper’s coverage? Probably not, but Kaufman reportedly seems to have wanted everyone to think that he did. And his claims would not be so far fetched given the current dire conditions in the newspaper business.
A source close to Busy Chef claims that Kaufman once bragged about getting me “fired” from the Brooklyn Paper gig. While that statement made the abrupt ending to my fill-in stint seem suspicious, I never believed that to be the case. After all, I had agreed to fill-in on a temporary basis until Kuntzman found a replacement for his departed staffer. But it is possible, like those in Vermont and Boston had learned before us, that some folks there may very well have been hypnotized by the spell of the Busted Chef.And for the record, Gersh is nothing if not ethical. In my experience with him, he has proven to be a staunch believer in the separation between editorial and advertising. Say what you will about his wacky “podcasts”, Gersh is an upstanding member of the Brooklyn community and someone I respect greatly. Ditto for publisher Ed Weintrob who is one of the most dedicated media professionals in our city. – Homer