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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where in the World is Whisk Group? The Next Big Thing that Never Materialized.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 24, 2011 at 1:40 PM

click to enlarge Mark Weiss, CEO of Whisk Group - EATER SF
  • Eater SF
  • Mark Weiss, CEO of Whisk Group

Mark Weiss, CEO of Whisk Group, has dazzled the media for the past two years. "His restaurants are acclaimed for their innovation and excellence," says writer Michall Jeffers on Woman Around Town. "Prosperous restaurant owner wannabes, study the career of this man. This is how it's done."

But over the past year, Whisk Group has suddenly disappeared from the restaurant scene, slipping out of the media's eye as one project after another has lost momentum. Out of the nine projects listed on its website, only one actually exists. What happened? Where has the "budding mega-restaurateur" gone?

In June last year, the Chronicle's Inside Scoop was buzzing for days about Weiss' purchase of 101 California's coveted 7600-square foot restaurant place and his plans for a Parisian-style French bistro, Brasserie Lille, which was supposed to open this spring. Media outlets gossiped about Atlanta architects The Johnson Studio's designs for an open-air courtyard and a fancy Parisian-made bar top. Weiss was reported to be traveling in France, purchasing cabinetry, furnishings, and lighting.

click to enlarge No food for you: Brasserie Lille says adieu before it ever arrived.
  • No food for you: Brasserie Lille says adieu before it ever arrived.

SFoodie was wondering what happened to Brasserie Lille, so we swung by 101 California to see if perhaps the project was delayed. But the site at 101 California is empty, and signs on the windows say "now taking reservations," with the number for Johnson Hoke Retail Real Estate. SFoodie has made multiple calls to Whisk Group, but none of them have been returned so far.

Keith Shutz, the architect originally in charge of Brasserie Lille, tells SFoodie, "We got through design and they put it on hold and have been quiet ever since a year and a half ago. We haven't heard or been in contact with the client since then, and as far as we know, it's dead. Our guess is economic reasons, but I'd be speculating." He indicated that they'd also been having a hard time contacting Whisk Group.

Two other Whisk Group projects in S.F. have also fallen through. Weiss had bought the assets of the restaurant Aqua, described by Inside Scoop as "one of San Francisco's most important restaurants," after it abruptly closed down last April, promising to find it a new location quickly. Whisk also announced plans to team up with Tell Tale Preserve Company for a location at 33 Maiden Lane.

But Whisk Group seems to have halted plans for finding Aqua a new home. The website says, "New Location to Be Announced Soon," but as far as SFoodie can tell, the site has not been updated since Aqua closed. Whisk Group has also broken off its engagement with Tell Tale Preserve Company.

The only actual, physical restaurant that Whisk Group has is Againn, a contemporary British gastropub which opened two locations, one in Washington D.C., the other in Rockville, M.D.

click to enlarge 101 California today
  • 101 California today

As far as we can tell, the D.C. location is still running hot, but the Rockville tavern folded in under a year, with Weiss telling media outlets, "Our food was great and our service was great, but it's not an easy concept to align anywhere in the world, except probably in Britain... the concept came up diluted, and we may have not done a good enough job making sure it was really understood."

Another piece to the puzzle: Whisk Group was sued in March over another venture that fell through. Whisk had plans to turn an old D.C. laundry building into a pizzeria, but after more than $50,000 poured into foundation upgrades, soil remediation, and renovation, Weiss decided it was too costly and backed out. The architect, CORE Group, sued for unpaid fees, claiming that Whisk Group owed more than $125,000 in consulting fees for six projects.

So where in the world is Whisk Group? It's a bit of a mystery. The receptionist at Againn says Weiss is currently out of the country. We wonder if he's still wandering in Paris looking for French furnishings, or maybe he's cooking up some new project. Prosperous restaurant owner wannabes, study the career of this man. This is, perhaps, not how you want it done.

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Caroline Chen


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