Former manager of the Busy Chef restaurants on Henry Street, Daniel “Busted Chef”Kaufman, is awaiting a trial date for 24 counts of alleged fraud after appearing in Kings County Criminal Court on Dec. 26, 2008. Kaufman, who faces seven years in jail after allegedly stealing approximately $25,000 from former customers’ credit cards, is undergoing a criminal investigation.
Kaufman, who managed former Brooklyn Heights establishments Wine Bar at 50 Henry, Busy Chef, Blue Pig Ice Cream, and Oven, was arrested in July 2008 for the alleged fraud, after which his businesses were shut down, causing dozens of workers to lose their jobs. After his arrest, Kaufman’s former partner and landlord Alan Young reportedly locked him out of his apartment. According to The Brooklyn Paper, some claim that Young was using Kaufman as a scapegoat for larger white-collar crimes.
Kaufman’s alleged fraud in Brooklyn was not the first time he has had financial troubles with restaurants. Prior to relocating to Brooklyn Heights, Kaufman owned the South Kitchen and Wine Bar in Boston. He opened the business back in 2005, and by 2006 its doors were closed. As the restaurant’s sales plummeted, Kaufman reportedly neglected to pay approximately $40,000 in rent to his former landlord, Michael Devlin.
Former South Kitchen executive chef Jerome Watkins said Kaufman was a “visionary” who had a very strong entrepreneurial spirit, but he kept financial information very secret.
“We were profitable, but there was never any money around,” Watkins said, and none of the managers or the former co-owners, Brian Culkin and Joe Maffey, knew why.
“Everything was in his name, like the bank accounts and the liquor license. He was basically controlling everything,” Watkins said. It took Watkins and the owners a few months to realize the extent to which the restaurant’s money was disappearing, and then “weird things came up.” At one point, Watkins said, Kaufman hired his girlfriend to work 15 hours per week, but she received a 40 hour per week paycheck.
After having lost nearly $500,000, the restaurant had to close down. Nearly 30 people lost their jobs, including two chefs who were hoping to start their careers.
“It is really disappointing because you are building yourself, building your career, and suddenly you have to start over,” Watkins said.
Kaufman’s business failures did not begin in Brooklyn or Boston, but in his earlier days in Burlington, Vermont. [ed. note: actually, Kaufman started out in Boston, then fled to Vermont, then to Brooklyn] According to The Burlington Free Press, a popular Italian restaurant called Tuscan Kitchen had to close in 2007 due to ongoing financial problems.
Additionally, ShamelessRestaurants.com claimed that Adriana’s in Burlington had to close for similar reasons. Prior to venturing into the restaurant business, Kaufman served as the senior account manager for Propeller Media Works LLC, a Burlington web design, marketing and application development firm, and as a client relations team manager for PriceWaterhouseCoopers. As reported last year on BHB, he also served as the Chief Financial Officer for a light manufacturing firm. The company discovered suspicious corporate credit card charges of approximately $1200, allegedly made by Kaufman.
Despite Kaufman’s financial history, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, Judy Stanton, said he deserves credit for the contributions he made to the community.
“He went out of his way to be civic-minded and generous. He was more than willing to promote his business, but he wanted to serve the community,” Stanton said. Stanton referred to Kaufman’s former ice cream shop, the Blue Pig, donating cookies and ice cream to a community festival, and cakes to a bake sale.
“But this only added to the shock that people felt when they heard about the (fraud) allegations,” she said.
Even Jerome Watkins called him “passionate,” and said he “had a really strong vision about what he was doing.”
“But I’m not surprised to hear that he’s doing the same thing in Brooklyn. It’s unfortunate, but I wish him the best,” Watkins said.