Josh Thoma called me late Friday to get his side of the Solera change-over on the record. In a nutshell: There’s nothing behind all the frantic chatter coming out of his former restaurant.
“The idea that I paid off my credit cards and bought a new car—that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” Thoma told me. “My seven-year-old car has 120,000 miles on it. Anyone who knows me and sees me knows that. There were some credit cards that had my name on them and had business stuff on them, but I’ll be paying those off myself.”
Okay. So I asked Thoma: Where is all this coming from? “There were a couple of employee paychecks that bounced,” he told me. “But I couldn’t see how much money was in one account,” because Tim McKee controlled access to that account and was in New York for a long-planned trip the weekend that happened to be the handover weekend. “But we re-wrote those checks, and there’s still a little bit we owe employees, and what we’re trying to do is preserve all the money we can for employees, so they’re paid first, before Tim and I or anyone. I think people are just nervous about what’s going to happen, what the new company [Graves hospitality] will be like to work for. There’s always some anxiety in working for a new company. It’s a different structure to what Tim and I had, and while Graves has a lot to offer, it’s a different management structure, and that will just be uncomfortable for some people.”
I asked Thoma what it has been like to be him lately; since the implosion that resulted in his getting booted from Bar La Grassa and Barrio, he’s avoided the media. Does he feel like that avoidance resulted in his reputation being improperly tarnished? “I think everybody on the inside knows the true story,” Thoma told me, implying that has been enough for him. “Certainly with Solera I didn’t do anything wrong or bad, and really the whole transition,” of Solera from being owned by Thoma and McKee to being run by Graves, “has to do with my good relationship with Lee Lynch,” from whom McKee and Thoma bought the Solera building originally, when it was the Bravo space. “It’s been hard, moving forward,” Thoma told me. “There are a lot of rumors, I certainly know that. And I haven’t spoken publicly about what has happened, nor do I want to. I think talking [to the media] just keeps things in the public. I don’t think I’m responsible [for Solera’s business troubles]. Yet, it’s a very incestuous and chatty industry. If this were a tool and die company in Eden Prairie, none of this would be any news at all. I wish the people who are calling the media would call me first. I’m happy to show you my Amex login; you can see what business expenses I’m going to be stuck with” as Solera 1.0 winds down its books. “I feel like what’s going on is nothing but rumor, gossip, and innuendo,” Thoma told me, pointing out that his and McKee’s decision to pass Solera on intact, instead of declaring bankruptcy, was made because it was the right thing to do for the employees, and that he and McKee would likely be better off financially if they had in fact simply declared bankruptcy and locked the doors. “In light of all that’s happened, it’s easy to point fingers,” Thoma concluded, “But everyone should know that I really have been operating with my employees’ best interest first in mind.”