Whether everybody did grow to hate him or people were simply confused by the tavern’s ever-changing menu and hours–not to mention the exclusive wooden "pods," which diners could pay a $50 premium to sit in–customers weren’t coming in, and the tavern was hemorrhaging money.
Habetz eventually confronted Michael Hebberoy. "And he just blew up," Habetz says. "He’s like, You’re either with me or against me. I was really trying to be a friend to him. But look at someone like Mario [Batali]; who’s Mario’s close friend? Michael Stipe? He doesn’t really have close friends; people talk shit about him. That’s the price of fame."
Habetz has moved on to a more stable restaurant relationship, but Brownlow, after struggling for months to cook his way at Clarklewis under new economic strictures, left in December and has yet to find another kitchen to call home.
"I’m still not sure what to do with myself," says Brownlow, who compares the experience of building and then leaving Clarklewis to "getting married and divorced and losing a child all at the same time."
"We worked really tight together. Michael had a clear vision as far as architecture. Everything in the kitchen, I did. We hit the ground at 100 miles an hour."
When asked whether he felt like a rock star, Brownlow says, "Sure. Why not?"
His stardom ended, however, the day Michael split town, an event Brownlow says he also did not see coming. "It was chicken shit," says Brownlow. "It was very weak."
"When I opened the place, I told everybody I wanted to be around for 20 years or more," he says. "I wanted it to be the Chez Panisse of Oregon."
It lasted, for him, for only two.
David Howitt sounds entirely sincere when he says he does not care whether Clarklewis makes money; "it just can’t lose money," which he says would have been the case had Brownlow stayed and continued to incur exorbitant food costs. He sounds equally sincere when he says it’s important to the city that Clarklewis succeed.
"In any other city, if someone screws you out of your investment, you’re never walking into that door again," says Howitt. "Or worse, you might be maligning it, and saying, Don’t eat there; they’re frickin’ losers; they stole our money! Here, I come in and look around the room and say, Oh, there’s an investor that comes here once a week, and he lost 50 grand here. And he’s in having dinner. That is Portland, right? Through all the drama, people still come here and eat."
Not everyone is as charitable. "I don’t think Clarklewis is going to last the first quarter of 2007," says one chef, on condition of anonymity. Another calls Michael "Little Lord Hebberoy," and says that he and Pomeroy were so spoiled, "they used to call their landlord at Gotham and ask him to change the toilet paper."
"A lot of people in Portland grumble about them leapfrogging the chain of servitude that we in the kitchen all feel like you need to go through," says Leather Storrs, who was the chef at Noble Rot when it was named Restaurant of the Year by Willamette Week in 2003 just before Clarklewis opened (Storrs is currently chef and owner of soon-to-open Rocket restaurant). "Mario Batali was the one who said, ‘We bring in food, we fancy it up, and we sell it at a profit. And don’t delude yourself into thinking we do anything else, because when you do, that’s when the problems start.’"