Westside BBQ Changes Hands
Matteo Melosi is back, and his former partners are out.
by Catherine Zudak
From the December, 2017 issue
Westside BBQ recently hoisted a banner proclaiming it was under new management. The benign announcement concealed a lot of legal wrangling. On October 3, Matteo Melosi, the restaurant's founder, entered the tiny storefront with several Washtenaw County sheriff's deputies and his legal counsel. Everyone employed at that time was fired, including Petra Bartosiewicz, who considered herself a co-owner, and Adam Bota, who had referred to himself and Bartosiewicz as business partners with Melosi in an MLive story in September 2016.
"They told us to leave immediately," says Joe Schenke, who was working the counter that day.
Bartosiewicz hired Schenke in June to act as the general manager, but the conflict over ownership predated that. In May Bartosiewicz had filed suit against Melosi and A2q LLC, which does business as Westside BBQ. Bartosiewicz asked the court for an injunction denying Melosi access to the business. Melosi filed a countersuit demanding that Bartosiewicz turn over the financial records and vacate the premises.
Melosi acknowledges that the change in management was "pretty dramatic." He says the litigation might drag on "forever," but for now he wants to focus on making great barbecue. He's working with Aaron Peggs, another chef who loves slow cooking as much as Melosi does. The two have worked together before in other kitchens, including the Ann Arbor Country Club, where they met in 2013.
"We're cooking on apple and cherry hardwood," Melosi says. "Everything we make comes out of the smoker." That includes the cheesy potatoes and mac and cheese, as well as the brisket, ribs, and pork shoulder.
Westside BBQ opened in September 2016, following Melosi's success smoking barbeque outside Argus Farm Stop on Liberty. He asked Bota, an experienced restaurateur, if he wanted to work the front while Melosi ran the smoker. Bartosiewicz came on board as the financial manager. Then Melosi took an extended absence.
"I lost both my parents last year," he explains, "so I decided to take a trip around the world."
Melosi says while
he was gone the restaurant did a brisk business, and that's what led to the falling-out: "I'd like to know where all that money went."
Judge Archie Brown ruled in Melosi's favor for possession of the property and control of its assets, but the legal battle isn't over. Bartosiewicz filed an amended complaint in November that contends Melosi had dipped into company coffers for personal expenses. A hearing on that complaint is scheduled for March.
Tracy Van den Bergh, counsel for Bartosiewicz, says her client had understood herself to be a co-owner, investing her personal savings and a lot of sweat equity.
"She was putting in eighty-hour work weeks to get the business started," Van den Bergh says. "So the court's initial ruling was very disappointing."
Under Bartosiewicz, Westside BBQ had up to nine employees. Now, Melosi and Peggs are running it as a two-man operation.
"We may open more locations," Peggs says, "but they'd be two guys, like this one."
"If we sell out, we're going to close the doors," Melosi adds, "Everything we serve, we've cooked for that day. We're never going to save stuff to reheat."
Melosi rejects any suggestion that the food and service might have suffered in the transition. "We have a four, five star ratings online," he says.
Anyone is welcome to come and judge for themselves, except of course, those employees fired in October.
Westside BBQ, 108 E. Madison. 585-0806. Wed.-Sun. 11 a.m.-7 p.m (or until food runs out). Closed Mon. & Tues. westsidebarbecue.com.
[Originally published in December, 2017.]
On December 4, 2017, James Maule wrote:
I've been a part of Westside Barbecue since before it opened its doors. Melosi's posturing in this article is despicable.
Melosi fails to disclose that his absence starting in December 2016, a mere four months after the restaurant opened, was, in fact, because he was discovered using the restaurant's bank account for drawing tens of thousands of dollars in cash at casinos, spending thousands on clothes, massages, concert tickets, child support payments, personal rent expense… the list goes on. And these expenses were in addition to the $5,000 per month payment he was receiving from a struggling, upstart restaurant that was being funded by Petra's life savings.
Now Melosi would like to pretend as though he never received the life savings of Petra and never held Petra and Adam Bota out as partners to myself, his friends, and the Ann Arbor community. This type of behavior seems almost predictable for Melosi, who has conned others before and just a few years ago pled guilty to a false pretenses charge in Washtenaw County.
During Melosi's ten-month absence Westside managed to recover from the damage he inflicted and was built into a respectable and honest business that took pride both in its five-star rated barbecue and in becoming a growing part of the Ann Arbor community. The backbone of that effort was the restaurant's wonderful team of employees, who Melosi, in his first act upon returning, summarily fired without cause and subsequently failed to pay for weeks. Employees that depended on their weekly paychecks to make rent, buy medicine, and support their families were fired on the spot and had to wait weeks to receive pay which they had deservedly earned.
I was a close friend to Matteo. Now I think the color orange would be appropriate for his behavior.
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