“I had to ask my wife, ‘What day is this?'” Anthony de Palma said. “I haven’t been unemployed for 12 years. I haven’t had any real time off in five years.”
Now he’s off – permanently – after closing the doors of his successful Dolce de Palma in West Palm Beach after a five-year run. The chef cites issues with the landlord as the principal reason he decided to close.
“It’s unfortunate, to say the least,” he said in a phone interview this morning. Ultimately, the closing came down to the small building that he leases off Parker and Okeechobee near the Kravis Center, he said. “It was a mix of problems with the landlord and building inadequacies.
“I was trying to move the bathrooms inside – my clientele would have to go outside to use what we referred to as ‘the outhouse.’
They had to stripe the parking lot and I didn’t want to invest in that. I’ve put over $180,000 into the building in improvements. The lease extension was coming up the first of June every year. I have a wife and new baby at home. It got to be too much.”
He said taxes and insurance, at $5500 a month, were an extra burden. Problems in finding a good manager this past season added to the headaches. “I was spending so much time on the floor and not in the kitchen. It’s hard enough to battle the ups and downs in the restaurant business. The landlord was threatening me, and I just said ‘enough.'”
Offers pouring in
Curiously, he said, he’d had the best week in a month when he decided to pull the plug on June 17. “Thank God the phone’s ringing. People do care about good food – they want to see me back on my feet fast.”
Danny Meyer, with whom he worked in New York City for some time before coming to Florida, would like him back in Manhattan, de Palma said, and he’s had offers from backers who would like him in Miami.
“I’m not sure what to do yet. I’ve got opportunities on the island (Palm Beach) and with the Fratelli family where I did an apprentice in Rome – Stefano was one of the first to call.”
“The mayor (of West Palm Beach) called and talked to me about a place downtown. They’d like me to stay in West Palm Beach.” The old Bonds space is available, and spot across from Phat Sandwiches on the west end of Clematis, as well.
It will come down to details that fix the problems his diners noted at the previous location – and emphasize the parts they enjoyed. “They loved the patio where they could smoke, and the parking directly at the restaurant.” He’d like a full bar, and bathrooms inside the building – a certainty, he said, in his next restaurant.
Taking a vacation first
After meeting with a few people, De Palma said he’s probably taking a vacation before committing to something new.
But first, he’ll auction his equipment from Dolce de Palma Tuesday. “I hate to lose this investment. I’m going to get as much back as I can then move on. My wife wants me to take some time off – then line up everything the way I need it to be by the end of the month. We’ve never really even had a proper honeymoon.”