Investor calls out ‘deadbeat’ business partner at Silo Deli

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(Photo by Caleb Smallwood)

by Eric Ginsburg

After Winston-Salem business Crown & Cork closed suddenly, a major investor found out the hard way that he likely won’t be paid what he’s owed, and there could be legal action against the owner, who also runs Silo Deli Wine & Cheese Bar.

Michael Touby admits he probably should have known better.

There were red flags over the last year — since he invested a considerable sum of money into Silo Deli and Crown & Cork near Wake Forest University — that suggested trouble ahead.

“I should’ve watched myself better,” he said, “but I was so excited about the industry and wine and food, and I let that sort of romance me into ignoring facts that should’ve been concerning.”

Touby had been friends with Chris Barnes, the owner of Silo Deli, for several years, and had even been in business with him before as in investor at Sixth & Vine. In early 2014, Touby invested “multiple tens of thousands of dollars” into Silo, launching Crown & Cork next door in Winston-Salem’s Reynolda Village and covering some of Barnes’ debts, he said. He declined to name an exact figure.

Midway through 2014, Barnes posted on Facebook and said he was quitting and couldn’t handle everything with the businesses anymore, Touby said. Barnes asked for more money to keep their shared vision afloat, and Touby obliged, he said. But then right after Thanksgiving, Touby was surprised to hear from other people that Barnes was trying to cut him out and would be closing down Crown & Cork.

“I asked him to start paying me back on some sort of schedule that we had agreed to in writing and he has failed to do so,” Touby said. “I don’t know if I expect to receive any of that money back. I have no idea how Silo is still open.”

Instagram screenshot
Instagram screenshot

It’s been several months, and Touby said Barnes hasn’t responded to multiple requests for repayment. By last week, Touby was fed up. Just before 10 a.m. on the morning of Jan. 29, he posted an image of a red button with the word “DEADBEAT” on Crown & Cork’s Instagram page, and called out Barnes and Silo Deli by name.

“Chris Barnes… takes money from investors and doesn’t pay them back?” he wrote. “What kind of person would do such a thing? Is this the type of businessman Winston-Salem should support? When you loan money to someone and bend over backwards to help them and then they turn their back on you and laugh in your face when it’s time to pay them back, it makes you wonder about the ethics of people running restaurants.”

Barnes did not respond to multiple interview requests for this story, but Silo is still open and employees confirmed that Barnes is still actively involved. Touby, who also worked at Crown & Cork, said the related business is closed but added that he has heard it may open occasionally on weekends.

The partnership didn’t unravel rapidly, Touby said, attributing the failure Barnes’ “slow, insidious, necrotic sort of apathy.”

There hasn’t been any face-to-face confrontation between the two, but Touby has “sent him the official kind of notices that a person is supposed to send,” he said.

“I expect him to pay me back just like a good person would,” Touby said. “Fortunately I have a contract with him that would let me take him to court or what have you to enforce his payment,” he continued. “I prefer not to go that route and to have him handle it as a good gentleman would but that would probably be my next course of action. I did cover myself by having him sign appropriate agreements, and so forth.”

Touby had invested money in Barnes’ ventures before, including Noma, where Jeffrey Adams restaurant now resides, and Sixth & Vine. Touby received his money back in both cases, he said, but Barnes’ ex-wife is the one who repaid him.

Despite the bad blood, Touby hopes Silo Deli makes money, but said “all of his kitchen staff has been let go” so he isn’t sure how that will happen.

“I need him to succeed,” he said. “I need him to do well in order to be able to pay me back but it’s been several months now and I haven’t received any money. I need to move on to my next projects.”

Touby has real-estate businesses that provide student housing and rental properties, communication companies that are connected to the pharmaceutical industry and a few other things, but he said his passion is food and wine. He and Barnes had planned to take over both floors of a barn at Reynolda Village, launching a club, event space and bar. The university, which owns the property, was thrilled, he said, and people who knew about it were very excited.

“I probably put $40,000 into just the planning of that space,” Touby said, listing off expenses including audio/visual consultants and architects. “I took a big loss in the planning of that alone.”

Now, Touby is planning something else, and he’s looking around downtown in the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter and on Trade Street, among other locations. He envisions a New York City-style restaurant, event space and bar, adding that he is big on paleo, gluten-free and biodynamic cuisine.

Touby has already taken initial steps, meeting with other real-estate folks and people with the city last week, but the cloud of his dealings with Barnes is still hanging over his head.

“People should honor their commitments and their obligations,” Touby said. “They end up hurting a lot of people when they don’t do that. I could’ve continued to help him. I’m perplexed.”

[UPDATE: Triad City Beat previously delivered 10 issues of the paper to Silo Deli every week, but was informed on Feb. 4 when this article ran that “We don’t want your paper here anymore.” See below for comments from former employees.]

  • Nathan Bedsole

    This article would benefit from a voice other than Touby’s.

    • Clark

      As someone involved with Silo from the start, I believe every word. I didn’t get paid on time, ever. I finally got fired because I told Christopher Barnes that I couldn’t care more about his restaurant than he did. I understand Touby’s frustration and I “only” put in 12 hour days 6 days a week, not thousands upon thousands of dollars. Was proud to be a part of it and I never felt like Chris cared at all. It’s a shame he’s let such a gem go to waste.

    • I completely agree. I called Chris Barnes four different times on different days over the last week to no avail, and left messages with multiple employees — including the manager of Silo — in an attempt to reach him.

  • jeremiah

    I joined this dream on a wing and a prayer. Painted cabinets, installed and rearranged hardware, perfected signature dishes, supported an amazing head Chef, and was ripped apart in the wake of bad decisions and even worse executive management. I was the sous chef to Clark before this amazing prospective vision was brought to reality. Our efforts to maintain not only our quality but the original vision that was sold to us when we were hired resulted in our termination. We were replaced instantly and moved on with our lives, but I can’t say any of this comes as a shock. The first person Chef Clark Brown and I approached about the failing tide of this business venture and our fear of things to come was Michael Touby, sitting in Crown and Cork, over wine and cheese. I hate that this has happened. We bled for this place. It is, however, good to know that despite Chris Barnes’ claims upon our unjustified termination, we were not the problem. Best of luck to all parties who have the unfortunate position of being involved. -J.M.Janke; fired sous chef, Silo Deli, Wine and Cheese.

  • Jack

    I’m not going back Barnes up, that’s their business.
    But Touby has a reputation at many downtown restaurants, and none of them are good. I’m a downtown person, I remember Touby getting kicked out of multiple restaurants on occasion because of his…abrasive nature.
    The fact that somebody would go into business with him is a huge red flag.

  • Erik

    As a former salaried kitchen grunt at Silo, I can say that Toubys’ appearance as well as his financial contributions were both enormous red flags in my eyes. Being a Winston Salem native and downtown regular, I am by no means a stranger to the socially gifted freak show that Touby has been in the past. With that said, Michael showed up right on time, caring more for the entire staff and quality of food than Chris ever had. This much I was grateful for. Was the kitchen frustrated, over worked, and disenfranchised? Absolutely. Spend six days a week in an environment where you feel less than appreciated, with an absentee owner, running out of easily acquired product, and consistently embarrassing yourself due to circumstances far beyond your control… Just another day working for Barnes. Meanwhile he’s out sneaking B list wine into his kids social functions via paper coffee cups. Spare me. Can I please get my check on time? Of course not. I didn’t mind waiting and paying my landlord her late fees and I wouldn’t have dared mention this to him at the time because we were all in it to win it. Mr Janke said it best, we bled for you. Good riddance, sir. P.S. it’s the fifth of February. Can I please have my w2 already?

  • maggie

    Is this article necessary? If he did “cover [him]self by having him sign the appropriate agreements, and so forth” in a legally binding sense, why is this an issue to be taken up by the City Beat? One might assume that a triad media outlet would post articles with a positive spin to bring business to the area. What’s with the shade??

    • “One might assume that a Triad media outlet would post articles with a positive spin to bring business to the area.”
      I’m afraid you have no idea what the purpose and function of a newspaper is. What you’re asking for is the role of advertising or a group like Visit Winston-Salem, the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership or the chamber of commerce. That’s not what journalism exists to do.
      That being said, we do print all sorts of “positive” articles about the Triad. But it sounds like you’d have us hide and cover up the negative or distasteful aspects of our cities. For that, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

      • Matt

        All due respect Mr. Ginsburg, but journalism this ain’t. And I’m afraid you may have no idea what the purpose and function of a newspaper is. Accepting Mr Touby’s word as gospel seems a bit naive (his reputation for reckless behavior and habitual lying are legendary in this town), and going to print without a second source or any supporting evidence seems kinda desperate. Responsible journalism means sometimes not printing a story if you can’t verify the information. As the comments on this story indicate, there are plenty of people willing to go on record about this situation, so why one source? Personally, I don’t care what level of journalistic integrity you hold yourself too (it will be evident in the story anyway) but don’t chide Maggie about her admittedly idealistic comments, when your story is nothing more than cynical, cheap gossip meant to generate page views, not a sincere effort to keep the community informed. If it is gossip, call it gossip.

  • Chloe

    I was a long time customer to both Silos and Crown and Cork, but stopped going after Crown and Cork abruptly and effectively closed and Silos was declining at that point anyway. It’s too bad all of this stuff in the article and comments happened because they were both really great places to go. I had no idea this was going on in the background, and I appreciate that the staff was apparently ensuring that my experiences were always amazing even though they were apparently going through some significant hardships. Very professional!

    I think this article should be re-written with the viewpoints of former staff. Having only the voice of Touby makes it sound very biased. If I hadn’t looked at the comments, I would have totally missed out on the fuller story.

  • Elisha

    As a former staff member I proudly support the statements from Jeremiah, Erik, and Clark. We were mistreated. There’s no doubt about it. I, however worked in the FOH, not the kitchen. I remember you Chloe.
    You were a great customer and loyal too! We saw you every Sunday! I appreciate you taking the time to read our comments!

  • Maria Williams

    Wow!!! I guess its my turn.. My name is Maria Williams many know me from downtown winston-salem cats corner cafe as well as the former shelter manager for the forsyth humane society … I was hired by chris barnes 2 days after they opened silo, i worked along side of the very disgruntled staff from the very start… Clark and Elisha too young for a very grown up postion…jay .. Working hard yes, altho not smart … He as a few others were followers… I watched and heard them everyday make bad choices that led them ALL to walk out in the middle of their shift. No one fired them, as i couldnt understand why? My work ethic’S are pretty high (many will say im a bitch) because im loyal and i love what i do and i have PRIDe in what I do and what i saw in the time they were employed was a disgrace. Shame on you Clark & Elisha Brown, Chris gave you the chance to be managers and YOU blew it, Jay (i thought better of you) you called me mama dukes cause you new i had Silo’s back, why didnt you? You knew what they were doing was wrong altho you followed …. If all of your parent’S only new what you guy’s did. again shame on you for feeling like a victim, booo hooo for taking 2 hour “smoke” breaks in a 5 hour work day, drinking a six pack plus of beer a day every day (on the job) behind your bosses back, Chris trusted YOU!! That’S the fault of him, he’S too trusting. He was burned, NOT you.
    I am a Silo deli wine and cheese employee and i am proud to be apart of a team NOW who has RESPECT for each other, and takes pride in what we do. as a restaurant employee we will always have up’s and down’s its just apart of. Life, Chris Barnes Thank YOU!!

    • Elisha

      Maria, I will not use this as a forum to bash you although it would be the easy way to go. Rather I will tell you that I have successfully managed several restaurants and that since you were there for a fraction of the time I was you have no idea of what you speak. We were fired while we were eating lunch with our current employers in Boone. We never walked out on a shift. Please never ever ever utter my name again to spread such lies. It will not be tolerated.

    • Clark

      These are all lies coming from a warped drug addled 60 year old mind. Not to be considered factual.

  • Kacie

    Keep on being in denial. Things are FINALLY going down due to a poorly ran business and you still don’t have the ability to see it. As for work ethic…Clark, Jay, Erik, Elisha and myself were there all day everyday for a very long time. We didn’t have any front of house staff and so who ended up working all those shifts? Elisha and I. Where were you when we needed someone on a weeknight or Sunday? You are a server that works 9-5 Mon-Fri. That is unheard of. Where were you on nights that we were slammed and only had ONE server for the whole restaurant and no owner to answer his phone? Or how about the deep cleaning days that you suggested? But you are not to blame in all this, Chris is. You are just clinging on for dear life and I am sorry to say your time is coming up. Silo had so much potential but no one to take care of it properly. Can’t say I didn’t see it coming.

  • Elisha

    Also, it was more like 13 hour work days just FYI.

  • jeremiah

    That was an entertaining little fiction, Maria. My favorite part is where you failed to address the article even once. You’ve made outrageous and false accusations in some feeble attempt to defend your employer. Your personal attacks are laughable at best. Very professional. It’s a testimony to the level of character still available at Silo. You’ll be happy to know that my parents are very proud of the man they’ve raised. I understand you are angry and I forgive you. I wish you well.

  • Frank Golightly

    Meh. Conflict aside, this is a pretty poorly written piece. Author trolls Instagram for a scoop and interviews one? Almost as lazy as the Vice Kings article 2 weeks ago. Threatened to be interesting, but then ultimated in…meh.

  • Clark

    Meh!? This is gold!