By all appearances, the Hebberoys had lassoed the moon. It was around this time, however, that Michael Hebberoy started talking about his next project, a book titled Kill the Restaurant, and, whether consciously or unconsciously, he hit on the idea of starting with his own.
"I remember being on our honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta, right after Clarklewis opened," he says. "I was lying by the pool reading Jeremiah Towers’s tell-all [California Dish], about how the whole Stars restaurant empire starts to crumble, and Naomi’s like, ‘I hope that never happens to us.’ And I just looked off and saw it across the sky: It will fall in exactly the same way."
On April 27, 2006, it did just that. The previous night, at a "Glass Dinner"–one of many underground culinary events Michael Hebberoy was constantly orchestrating, in this case at Esque, a glassblowing studio–Naomi Hebberoy says Michael told her that Ripe’s finances, which he’d always overseen, were irretrievably down the toilet, and that he didn’t know where to get more money. Michael’s emotional state wasn’t news to Naomi–the couple had been living apart for nine months, and he’d been increasingly manic, she says–but the fact that they would not make payroll for Ripe’s 95 employees was a surprise to Naomi. Moreover, Michael informed her that he was leaving town; she’d have to find a way out of the mess on her own.
Word spread instantaneously through the food community and in the local media: The Ripe empire had fallen.
In the morning, Naomi Hebberoy phoned the key figures still in Ripe’s nucleus, and "within 10 minutes" found herself in Howitt’s office along with Brownlow, Habetz and various lawyers. After they reviewed the financial situation, it was decided that all the businesses in the Gotham Building–the catering operation, Family Supper and the tavern–would close that day. That left Clarklewis, a restaurant Naomi (who’d spent the past two years cooking at and managing Gotham, Family Supper and their catering business) had never been involved with, except as a partner-on-paper. Soon the Hebberoys would lose their equity, as would Brownlow, who for the time being decided to stay on as chef.
Howitt, who became the new sole proprietor of Clarklewis, offered Habetz ownership of Gotham, provided he take on all its existing debts. Habetz declined. (Troy MacLarty had left Family Supper several months earlier, after Michael Hebberoy had told him his salary could no longer be met. He is currently the chef at Lovely Hula Hands in North Portland.) Naomi Hebberoy would stay on salary at Clarklewis, as general manager, a gig Howitt says she eventually proved unsuited for.
Word spread instantaneously through the food community and in the local media: The Ripe empire had fallen. The prince and princess of Portland’s culinary scene were in the midst of a divorce. Former employees and food bloggers variously glorified and vilified Michael Hebberoy, and adulation turned to rumor-mongering: He had purportedly fled to Mexico, with a woman who was or was not a stripper, with or without investors’ money in his pockets, possibly with a book deal, possibly with part ownership in the upcoming "modern bohemian" Ace Hotel. Sightings of Hebberoy funneled in from Los Angeles, San Francisco and British Columbia.
Few, if any, of the investors had seen it coming. "We expected [the business] was being handled, and it wasn’t," says Howitt, adding that to the best of his knowledge, no one had ever asked to see Ripe’s books.
"Michael had done such a fantastic job up until the final day, doing this dance that everything was great," he says. "All I knew was: I came into Clarklewis frequently, and it was jam-packed, and in my mind, if you’re in a restaurant that’s jam-packed with a huge waiting list and it’s won Restaurant of the Year and gets glowing reviews in Gourmet magazine, you assume that the business is good. But what we didn’t know was, when the menu offered white truffles with osso buco for $27, it was actually costing the restaurant $30."