After less than two years at the G.A.R. Castle, Sarah Welch was fired on Thursday morning from her executive chef positions at sister restaurants Republic Tavern and Parks & Rec Diner. Welch told the Detroit Free Press she was notified yesterday morning by general manager Lisa Carleton by voicemail of the ownership’s decision.
"After presiding over both Parks and Rec’s positive reception as well as Republic’s continued success, I am surprised and deeply saddened by the ownership’s decision to part ways," she says. "Despite some early challenges, our team was able to right a floundering ship."
In a statement to Eater this morning Carleton confirms that the restaurant has parted ways with Welch describing it as a “a long thought out decision on the part of the owners and myself. There was a difference in management styles that we had tried to work out with Sarah over the past months.” Carleton continues:
I left a message for Sarah yesterday to finalize the termination because, as I stated in the message to her — I did not feel she would answer a call from me. Sarah was requesting a final decision to the possible termination as soon as possible. This was to accommodate her request. I wish it could have been done in another way but circumstances made that impossible.
In the interim chef Matt [Currie] is going to take a lead role in the running of Republic. Chef Allie [Lyttle] is doing the same in Parks & Rec. We want to continue offering a great dining experience in both outlets for our guests. We also want all of the people working here to continue being successful and move forward with us.
Both Currie and Lyttle were sous chefs with Welch. Welch was initially hired as the restaurant’s sous chef but was promoted following the unexpected departure of chef Kate Williams who was also rumored to be in conflict with the restaurant management.
Although it was her first executive chef position, Welch helped steer the restaurant to achieve numerous local accolades including Eater Detroit’s 2015 Restaurant of the Year. She herself was voted 2015 Chef of the Year. “I like to level with people. I don't like to preach to people,” she said of her leadership style during her first few weeks on the job. In statements to the Free Press, Welch says that she began preparing to resign from her position several months ago.
Reached by Eater, Kate Williams says she was disappointed to learn of Welch’s termination. While Williams left only three months after opening Republic, she worked to develop the restaurants for more than a year and says she can see some of her own experience in her successor.
“Of course I don't know what happened between chef Sarah and the owners, and I've never been interested in speaking on exactly my experience that led to my decision to leave Republic,” she says. “Unfortunately, there are certain situations where you know you can't be personally or professionally happy due to things out of your control. Are you thriving? Are you able to make your best food? No? Then figure out why, where, and how to get there.”
Williams is confident that Welch will land on her feet. “I'm not worried about Sarah, I'm excited for her actually. She's an inspired, thoughtful, and patient cook and a great leader. I've always been proud of the work she has done and continued on at Republic, which was so personal to me. She has led that team amazingly. I can't wait to see what she does next and taste her food again."
Eater has reached out for more details and will update this story as it develops.
Update, 3/13, 12:38 p.m.: Speaking with Eater by phone today, Sarah Welch expressed her disappointment with having to leave her post and her staff so abruptly, but is looking forward to moving on to new projects. “I’m fine,” she says. “I just wish that I had been able to leave on better terms and leave my team better set up for success.”
To a certain extent in taking over Republic, Welch says she always felt in the shadow of her predecessor and the expectations of the restaurant. “I think that I’ve always kind of cooked under the framework that Kate left and that’s not to say that the food wasn’t mine but the food was always Republic’s food,” she says. “I’m going to use this time to find my voice and find a really clear and true vision.”
Welch says she had already begun the process of planning her own solo project and had been transparent about that with the G.A.R. ownership. Now, she plans to refocus her efforts on developing that restaurant. “I’m looking for property looking for a possible partner,” Welch says.
In the meantime, fans can catch Welch as she cooks with farm-to-table dining series Outstanding in the Field this summer. Hosted at Food Field in Detroit, tickets go on sale on March 20 at noon.
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