Fork & Barrel closes after less than a year in East Falls

The recent closing of a short-lived, but well-received East Falls restaurant has stirred up a mix of surprise, suspicion and outrage from local residents and the city’s restaurant community.

After just seven months on Ridge Avenue, Fork & Barrel shuttered its beer bar, gastropub doors Sunday night with no notice.

In a prepared statement afterwards, co-owner Matthew Swartz wrote, “It’s been a great year at Fork & Barrel in East Falls, but we made a business decision to close since The Farmers’ Cabinet has so many of the same elements. We hope that our Fork & Barrel customers will continue to visit us in the city.”

The Farmers’ Cabinet at 11th and Walnut streets has a much larger capacity and menu than Fork & Barrel did, but does have a somewhat similar focus on craft beer.

Gina Snyder, executive director of the East Falls Development Corporation said she’s not particularly upset by the closing, but is disappointed with how the owners handled it.

“It just didn’t seem like the closure was as neighborhood friendly as it could have been,” said Snyder, who got the news from emails sent out early Tuesday morning.

“I think people would have appreciated an announcement and some information upfront that would have made them understand why the business was leaving,” she said.

The seemingly abrupt closure has ignited a lively online debate. In a crowded comment section below a post on Foobooz.com, a local food blog, entries range from fiery to pragmatic.

“The fork and barrel wasn’t closed as a business decision, it failed,” reads one from an apparent former employee.

“If you believe that you are the first industry people to have this happen to them then you are ignorant,” reads another.

In a phone interview Thursday co-owner Swartz agreed that people should not be so shocked by the closing and that the decision was more calculated than it may appear.

“It was truly just a business decision. It wasn’t to hurt people or to be mean. It wasn’t anything like that,” he said.

Asked if he was personally disappointed by the closure, Swartz simply said, “It is what it is.”

But Mark Sherman of Sherman Properties, who owns the Fork & Barrel building, is reportedly not planning to take Swartz and his partner’s decision in stride. Sherman reportedly contacted Foobooz.com and said, among other things, that he “intends to take legal action.”

Sherman was not available for comment, but wrote in a Wednesday email to EFDC’s Snyder that “on the evening of April 18, 2011, owners, Matthew Swartz and Matthew Scheller abruptly vacated the premises without any prior notice.”

Swartz would not comment on whether the decision to close Fork & Barrel violated any type of agreement with Sherman. Scheller did not return a call for comment.

Swartz and Scheller will continue to operate Tap & Table and The Bookstore in Emmaus and Bethlehem, Pa. respectively. The pair is hoping to open a new restaurant venture in Philadelphia this spring. 

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