“Somebody’s dying / People are crying … Why is anybody worth the suffering? / Why are we always left wondering? / Why do we show up anyway?”Sara Hallie Richardson, “Sandy,” used as background music in a promotional video for Maine Home + Design’s May 2012 issue
What does it mean when a white man calls another white man a “nigger”?
If the man yelling the slur is Jeffrey Carmine D’Amico, director of sales for Maine Media Collective, it means the other guy files a police report claiming you’ve violated the protection-from-abuse order imposed after you assaulted, terrorized and threatened his daughter. Or, as happened on another occasion, it means your landlord promptly evicts you from the room you’re renting on Munjoy Hill. We’ll return to these allegations, which D’Amico denies, later.
More broadly, the use of that slur against another white man is an attempt to declare oneself socially superior and to wield the power that accompanies membership in the master class. The same can be said, in less vulgar terms, for Maine Media Collective’s magazines (Maine, Maine Home + Design, Old Port) and the events it produces, like the Kennebunkport Festival. The publications and parties exist to provide opportunities for the wealthy to make business and personal connections with each other, and to declare, by one’s presence, that you belong among the economic elite, the “upper crust of Maine society,” as Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz recently described them.
When Maine magazine was being launched, a decade ago, the staff had a meeting during which they struggled to succinctly define the new publication’s target audience. According to one person in the room, the publisher at the time, Kevin Thomas, who still owns Maine Media Collective, seemed exasperated by all the back and forth and finally just blurted it out: “It’s for white people.”
But not just any white people; rich white people. People of other races are not explicitly excluded from the magazines and festivities of Maine Media Collective. That’s just how it works in practice, because white people, especially in New England, have nearly all the wealth and most of the disposable income. A 2015 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Duke University and the New School, cited by the Boston Globe six months ago, found that the median net worth of white families in five major American cities was $247,500. For black families in Boston, it was $8. As in, eight bucks, or the price of a pint of Maine craft beer, plus tip.
Many negative (and even a few snarky) things have been said about Thomas since The Bollard’s exposé on Maine Media Collective, “Mean Magazine,” hit the streets in late April. Although numerous readers have noted the near total lack of racial diversity on his staff and at his events, no one has accused him of being racist. The most apt description of Thomas I’ve heard was that of a fellow publisher who summed him up by calling him a “venture capitalist.”
That’s exactly the way Thomas has run his company over the past dozen years. Yes, it’s superficially about people and places in Maine, but it’s not actually media (journalism or entertainment), and there’s nothing collective about the business’ culture or structure. Rather, it’s all about how much money Thomas can collect for himself.
Thomas hasn’t really tried to hide the fact that his magazines have no editorial integrity — defined as the practice of putting the readers’ interests (including their interest in the truth) ahead of the financial interests of the publisher and advertisers. In the summer of 2009 he told Mainebiz there would be “‘more affinity between editorial and advertising’ [in Maine] than is customary for print titles,” the business publication reported. And that’s certainly been the case. For example, at a publication that maintains what’s commonly referred to as a wall between the editorial and advertising departments, ad salespeople like D’Amico would not be writing editorial copy, ever, and definitely not under their own bylines. That practice is common in MMC’s publications.
Thomas’ disregard for basic journalistic practices caused friction in the early days of his enterprise, because the writers and designers he employed did recognize the importance of keeping editorial and advertising considerations separate. “You couldn’t bring up editorial integrity. That was a subject that you do not talk about,” recalled Jessie Lacey, the art director who later claimed she was sexually assaulted by Thomas and forced out of the company.
Lacey said that when she was laying out the pages of Maine Home + Design, Thomas would personally intervene to make sure advertisers were featured and companies that were not clients were excluded. “He would pull out photos if he had gone to them and they didn’t want to advertise … or leave them off the caption. It just was crazy.”
For some editorial staff, this lack of honesty and integrity was almost as distressing as the pervasive sexual harassment and malicious management of the workplace, because it debased the value of their work and sullied their professional reputations. The MMC contributor identified as Employee E in last month’s article said Thomas and former editor-in-chief Susan Grisanti had an “utter disregard for the editorial process. That killed me. That was really rough.
“There was no firewall between advertising and editorial,” E continued. “This is a story that is all over town: it’s always pay to play, we’ll cover you if you advertise. That’s not a magazine. That’s an advertorial [advertising formatted to resemble editorial content]. Kevin was very involved in the editorial and Susan was very involved in ad sales and it was all mixed. … I hated the idea that we couldn’t write about the interesting [eco-friendly] design that was done on a shoestring, because they weren’t ever going to advertise.”
This point is worth emphasizing, because it illustrates how MMC functions as an engine driving social discrimination and economic inequality in Maine. Working-class people without the means to advertise are also effectively excluded from editorial coverage. Meanwhile, competitors who already have wealth get additional exposure for their business in MMC’s pages via editorial copy that’s invariably positive, regardless of the quality of their products or services.
And it gets even creepier. A local businessperson who’s been active in civic affairs, whom I’ll call Pat, shared their take on MMC on condition of anonymity, due to fear that criticizing the company will negatively impact a nonprofit’s relationship with a rich MMC ally.
Pat moved to Maine a few years ago with a partner who, like Pat, was from a small town. “We were drawn here for what we felt was a more quiet, welcoming way,” Pat said. “As I began making my way in civic work, befriending city leadership, politicians, those types, I quickly learned of the clique of Maine Media. I foolishly sought to be part of what I thought was the ‘in crowd’ … seeking to score the coveted invite to their [social] events, etc. I have my own small business and felt it was the only way to have doors open to me, but would complain to my partner [about] how Portland was so much more cliquey than we realized.”
The response Pat received from MMC’s advertising department this year made it clear that even money was not enough to join the club. “[I]t’s important for us to understand your goals before offering you an opportunity to advertise,” the MMC salesperson wrote to Pat. “For us, [if] it’s not a good fit; then it’s just not a good fit.”
“As you might know, we’re not your ‘Ink on paper’ publication that offer [sic] only ads for advertisers,” the sales rep wrote in another message. “We’re relationship builders that provide an opportunity to be part of a community that comes together at least once a month to enjoy each others [sic] company, and build lasting relationships.”
Pat decided to decline that “opportunity” and “sever the few ties I had” with MMC.
To be clear, there’s nothing illegal about the way Thomas tailored editorial content to please advertisers. One could argue that it’s not even unethical when, as is the case here, there’s little effort to disguise this bias. The legal and ethical problems arise from the fact that advertisers pay magazines to reach readers, but readers don’t buy magazines that offer them nothing but advertising.
So who’s buying MMC’s publications? Good question. In an e-mail I sent on April 13 to Thomas and current publisher Andrea King, I asked them to share the same circulation information they would normally provide to a potential advertiser, including the number of subscribers (paid and otherwise) and newsstand sales. Both ignored the question, and King did not respond to a follow-up request for an interview last month.
The company has previously claimed that titles like Maine and Maine Home + Design each reach 30,000 readers. But unlike similar magazines with expensive ads, like Down East, MMC’s circulation is not audited by an independent, third-party firm that verifies those figures for advertisers in order to justify the cost of the ads. And there is strong reason to believe that MMC’s circulation claims are phony, if not fraudulent.
“Kevin never wanted to get audited,” said the former staffer we identified last month as Employee C. “So our pitch was always [that] he’s going to do 30,000 copies a month. That’ll be a combination of newsstand, some free distribution at the coffee shops, and then subscription. But there was a time — I don’t know if it’s still the case — when our storage facility had pallets of these fuckin’ magazines. You’d go in there to get stuff for a trade show and it’s just piled up.”
Eventually even that storage facility would get too crowded, so uncounted thousands of copies were tossed into the city’s industrial-sized recycling containers. In this photo taken by an acquaintance of mine in the winter of 2015/2016, you can see at least 128 unopened boxes of Maine Home + Design (and perhaps other MMC titles) on a trailer, being tossed into the “silver bullet” recycling receptacles on Commercial Street. Each box appears to contain about 25 copies (for a total of over 3,200 unread issues). A worker disposing of the magazines informed the person who took the photo that dump runs like this were made on a semi-regular basis.
The company’s fishy circulation claims also bothered editorial staff. Employee E, who had worked for a professional publication prior to joining MMC, found it “really shocking … that there was no audited circulation. They would tell people, ‘We have a circulation of forty thousand,’ [but] it’s hard to see how they could prove that. In order to do proper ad sales you really do have to kind of show people numbers, but a lot of advertisers aren’t savvy enough to understand that. So I found that a little unethical — shady, maybe.”
Over the months I’ve spent researching MMC, I’ve encountered scores of people who receive its publications by mail at their home or business. None of them paid for the subscription, and few said they even thumb through the mags before tossing them into the recycling bin. Boxes of MMC publications are delivered to realtors’ offices and other locations on the assumption that non-MMC employees will distribute them to well-heeled people, but there’s no way to know if that really happens. Similarly, copies are mailed to medical offices and hair salons in the hope that bored (and smart-phoneless) people will peruse them while waiting for an appointment, but it’s also impossible to verify that “readership.”
“During a meeting, Kevin implied that a magazine at a doctor’s office was going to be read an average of, like, four times, so they would multiply those numbers and count that as circulation,” said Lacey. As the person who managed the production of Maine Home + Design right up to the point when files were sent to the printer, “I was definitely in a position to see the [print run] numbers,” said Lacey, and those numbers were well below the circulation figures Thomas was tossing around, she said.
For advertisers, the value of being in a magazine received by people who didn’t pay for it or pick it up on their own volition is relatively low. Just because you make someone touch it by putting it in their mailbox doesn’t mean they open it or even like it. To wit: Employee A, who’s certainly no fan of MMC, has never subscribed to its magazines, yet said, “I get everything they print, some of it in double,” delivered to the home A shares with a partner. This has been going on for years.
“We play a game with it,” A said. “‘Alright, find the people who’ve already appeared [in past issues]. Find the person who’s been in every single publication in the last year.’” Those people are worth the most points.
It’s been observed that in politics it’s often not the crime that ruins careers, it’s the cover-up. That may very well be the case with Maine Media Collective in the months or weeks to come. Had the company honestly acknowledged past problems in the workplace, sincerely apologized, and demonstrated accountability, it’d be more likely they will survive. Instead, Thomas and top managers have obfuscated, called the victims liars, offered the weakest apologies possible, pulled bone-headed PR stunts, and tried to duck responsibility for their actions or inaction.
A couple days before our May issue hit the streets, Thomas called David Turin, the highly regarded chef and owner of restaurants in Portland and South Portland. Turin had been an MMC advertiser and a client of its in-house marketing firm, The Brand Company, for years. He’s also played a big role in the Kennebunkport Festival — the food, booze and arts event, formerly produced by MMC, that takes place in the tony seaside town every June. Turin said Thomas wanted to give him “forewarning” that our article was coming out and would contain a lot of potentially damaging assertions about MMC. “The first thing I said to him was, ‘Well, is it true?’” Turin recalled. “And he was like, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, it’s not true.’”
Statements like that could cost Thomas and his company dearly. Lacey, the employee who claims Thomas assaulted her at a hotel in 2010, initiated a civil lawsuit on May 21 against Thomas and MMC. “This action arises out of a longstanding pattern of abuse, sexual harassment, manipulation, intimidation, and bullying of female employees at Maine Media Collective, LLC by its founder, Kevin Thomas,” the claim states. “After [Lacey] exercised her right to speak truthfully about the abuse she suffered while working for MMC, Defendants made false and defamatory statements about her, both publicly and to third parties privately. These false and defamatory statements had the intended effect of disparaging Ms. Lacey, tarnishing her credibility and reputation, and forever undermining her professionalism by suggesting to the outside world that she — a talented professional who works in a small niche industry — is the kind of female who will ‘consent’ to being groped and kissed by her boss.”
Lacey’s lawyer, Laura White of the Kennebunk-based firm Bergen Parkinson, cites numerous occasions when Thomas and MMC executives tried to convince people that Lacey or others were lying or overreacting to Thomas’ actions. These include an MMC staff meeting, held in late April, during which Thomas is alleged to have told his entire company that Lacey’s claims are “all lies.”
The public response to the scandal by King and Thomas changed in revealing ways in the days after our story broke. Basically, the more advertisers and event sponsors they lost, the more contrite they appeared to be.
On the afternoon of April 26, just hours after our May issue hit the streets, King sent a mass e-mail to advertisers that contained no acknowledgement of any problems at the company, but plenty of corporate-speak blather about her commitment to “maintaining a positive, inclusive, and respectful company culture.”
The night of April 27, Thomas issued a statement through his company, quoted in the Portland Press Herald the next day, in which he called Lacey’s account of that night at the hotel “not true” and claimed she consented to being kissed. “Was it wrong?” Thomas said in that statement. “Of course. I was her employer, she was my employee. And we were friends.”
Also on April 27, King granted an interview to the Herald during which she said Thomas was “transitioning away from the company” and no longer had an official title. She added that her April 26 message to advertisers was, according to Herald reporter Eric Russell, “something she would have sent eventually to explain the company’s transition but Lacey’s [public accusations] moved up that timeline.”
In fact, Thomas had removed himself from the masthead (giving up any “official title”) five months earlier, before the January issues of MMC’s magazines went to press, with no public acknowledgement by anyone at the company that its high-profile founder and publisher was “leaving” — perhaps because he didn’t really leave. Thomas continued to work at MMC’s office in much the same capacity as he always had, according to several sources. When I showed up at their office, unannounced, in early April, he was there. We had an amiable off-record chat for about half an hour. His initial willingness to participate in an on-record interview, in a session that was also to include King, evaporated after I e-mailed both of them my questions (at their request).
Lacey actually may have hastened Thomas’ “transition” late last fall, when she told Press Herald reporter Bob Keyes about the hotel incident and other concerns. Assuming Keyes did his due diligence and promptly contacted Thomas about Lacey’s claims, the publisher’s quiet abandonment of his official title around that same time could have been an early attempt at damage control. And it almost worked. The Herald either spiked or sat on the story for months until The Bollard’s story broke.
The fallout continued over the weekend of April 28-29. In addition to the defections of advertisers and festival sponsors, longtime art director Heidi Kirn, who’d recently become editor-at-large of Maine and Maine Home + Design, quit the company. In a public social media post on April 30, King revealed that chief financial officer Jack Leonardi — who was also accused of sexual harassment and assault by MMC employees — had resigned, and said Thomas “has ended his involvement with the company effective immediately.” MMC was allegedly still searching for a new owner when this issue went to press in late May.
MMC’s spin machine went into overdrive the week after our story broke. In her April 30 post, King said she and her colleagues were “stunned by recent news coverage about our organization.” The wording is curious. Was King “stunned” by the allegations themselves, stunned that they were covered in the media, or both? It’s not clear. But it’s hard to believe King was oblivious to the toxic culture at the company. To claim ignorance is either an admission of her gross incompetence as a manager, or it’s a lie.
King has tried to downplay her responsibility for this mess by saying she took over as publisher and CEO just a few months ago, last fall. In fact, she joined MMC in the summer of 2016 as chief operating officer and associate publisher, and was closely affiliated with the company as “a client and friend to our organization for years” before that, Thomas said in a Sept. 7, 2016 press release announcing her hiring.
It should be noted that, according to sources who were at the company during this time, the work environment did improve in some respects after King was named COO, because Grisanti officially departed two months later, in early November of 2016. The dynamic between Grisanti and Thomas was practically radioactive. “I have never seen two people enable bad behavior more in each other,” Employee E said. “They were the perfect storm of bad behavior. … Sometimes it just seemed like they tried to one-up each other for being horrible.”
King’s other spin move has been to try to narrow the scope of the problems at MMC to “the alleged actions of former management eight years ago,” as she put it in the April 30 post. “[W]e want to apologize and assure you … that such conditions are neither present nor tolerated at MMC today,” King wrote. That framing conveniently cuts out the eight years between now and then, a period during which, by my current count, over 20 people (mostly young women) were routinely subjected to unprofessional treatment in this workplace.
The spin seems to have worked on reporters and columnists at the state’s largest daily, who refused to acknowledge the seriousness, much less the validity, of the allegations made anonymously in this publication. As noted in “Mean Magazine,” these sources had legitimate reasons to keep their identities secret as victims, whistleblowers, and community members whose livelihoods could be negatively impacted by a powerful figure, someone whose propensity for vengeance and vindictiveness had been demonstrated to them on an almost daily basis. The Press Herald’s news coverage — not to mention its opinion columnists’ craven victim-bashing and –shaming — distorted the story by making it seem like it was all about two unwanted smooches back in the early Obama years.
The Herald apparently has no problem publishing quotes by unnamed sources when those people are high-placed officials in the Trump White House cited in the Washington Post wire-service articles it reprints. But local men and women of comparatively negligible social standing who claim to have been victimized by a sex-obsessed tyrant are deemed unreliable and, by extension, invisible by Maine’s newspaper of record.
One can’t help but wonder whether the antipathy toward the victims displayed by the Herald’s supposedly “liberal” columnists is the natural attitude of people who, like D’Amico, are given an inflated sense of self-importance by MMC. For example, the same week that star columnist Bill Nemitz wrote a piece practically pleading for the salvation of MMC, he was informed that, due to the scandal, the company was postponing publication of its “50 Mainers” fluff feature — Nemitz was among the “50 Mainers Boldly Leading Our State” in 2015; you get 10 points if you knew that.*
MMC’s strangest decision that week was to post a video on social media in which about a dozen female staff members were filmed smiling at the camera and laughing about something the viewer can’t hear. The public’s response was a mix of outrage and disbelief, and the post was removed, without apology or explanation, a few days later.
Meanwhile, out of public view, MMC execs were actively trying to discredit the victims of their former bosses. In Lacey’s court filing, her lawyer cites an e-mail allegedly sent on May 1 from MMC editor-in-chief Dr. Lisa Belisle, Thomas’ current girlfriend, to advertiser Adam Burk. “I’m honestly appalled that you would believe all of the anonymous and uncorroborated accusations” in the news reports, she wrote. “I believed that you were capable of understanding that not everything presented in the media can be taken at face value.” (As an MMC advertiser and, one assumes, reader, Burk certainly should know that. Sorry — there I go getting snarky again!)
On May 4, the Herald published a letter to the editor signed by over 15 staff members in which they too tried to spin the scandal and claim the company had profoundly changed in the two or three days since Thomas was forced out. Among the signatories was D’Amico, whose questionable vocabulary, not to mention documented criminal record of violence against a woman, demands a closer look.
The incident involving the father of D’Amico’s former girlfriend, the mother of his child, allegedly took place in October of 2013, and involved D’Amico approaching the man in a threatening manner while the man was in his vehicle. When I inquired about this in April, D’Amico’s attorney, Stephen Schwartz, wrote, “Jeffrey did not make the statement that was attributed to him, nor did he initiate any contact. However, because of the existence of the [protection-from-abuse] order, he was initially violated” — by which I believe Schwartz meant D’Amico was cited for a violation.
“Thankfully, Jeffrey was walking with a woman from his place of employment when this happened,” the lawyer continued. “She and I went to the District Attorney’s office, she gave a statement to the prosecutor, and we had photographs showing what happened. The matter was dismissed there and then, without the need for a hearing.”
Of course, photos are not proof that D’Amico didn’t call the man a “white nigger.” But the man’s companion that day declined to get involved in the matter, according to a police report, which likely also contributed to its dismissal by the D.A.
During the other incident, D’Amico was arguing with his landlord when he allegedly let the slur fly, leaving off the “white” part this time. The landlord, whom The Bollard has agreed not to name at his request, presented D’Amico with eviction papers within minutes of hearing the insult, and D’Amico was out within the legally mandated 30-day window.
Interestingly, this landlord is the person who actually bailed D’Amico out of jail in the summer of 2013 after he was arrested for assaulting the mother of his child and “threatening” their infant daughter. The landlord did so grudgingly. Grisanti had called and pleaded with him to help get D’Amico out of jail as soon as possible, so he could return to work at MMC — she and Thomas were said to be indisposed. The landlord, who disliked D’Amico, refused. He only agreed to help after Grisanti delivered several hundred dollars in cash to the apartment to use as D’Amico’s bail money. The landlord later went to MMC’s office and scolded a chastened Thomas and Grisanti for the drama they created.
The next time D’Amico landed in the slammer, for violating a protection-from-abuse order in early 2015, they apparently handled it themselves, covering his $2,000 cash bail. D’Amico was ordered by the court to undergo psychiatric counseling. “It’s been amazing to watch Jeffrey grow as a member of the team and further develop his leadership skills,” King said in the May 2017 press release announcing D’Amico’s promotion to director of sales.
Reached by phone last month, D’Amico flatly denied that he called either man a “nigger.” “I’m not racist,” he said. “A human being is a human being to me.”
It initially appeared that the Kennebunkport Festival would join Thomas, Leonardi, Kirn, Moxie Maine magazine, “50 Mainers,” and about 65 advertisers on the ash heap left by MMC’s flameout. But a couple days after it was announced that the festival, which MMC had produced since 2011, was being cancelled in the wake of the scandal and the severing of ties between numerous sponsors and MMC, it arose, phoenix-like, under supposedly new management.
In reality, festival director Emily McConnell is the same person who’s played a major role running the event as an MMC employee in years past. And, sure enough, they’re back to their old tricks. For example, MMC is still directly connected to the Kennebunkport Festival, at least online — the festival’s logo appears on MMC’s website among its other events and its publications, and clicking the logo brings you directly to the festival’s new website.
MMC’s divorce from the festival was celebrated on the slick website of the Kennebunkport Maine Hotel and Lodging Guide. An anonymous author wrote on the site that local businesses “are re-inventing the Fest to be more inclusive, less pay to play, without the involvement of MMC, more transparency and charity. Cheers to that…”
The “transparency” part seems to be a work in progress. When I called McConnell to request an interview, she requested that I send questions via e-mail. So I did, asking about many of the same issues mentioned above: a perception that the festival had not been inclusive or transparent enough in the past, that it operated on a pay-to-play basis, that people were questioning how much money went to MMC and how much went to the anti-hunger charity Full Plates Full Potential.
In response to my inquiry I got an e-mail from the festival’s steering committee that contained nothing but PR blather and didn’t even attempt to answer my questions. I was able to reach Full Plates organizer Justin Alfond, the former state senator from Portland, who said MMC contributed $20,000 the first two years Full Plates was involved with the festival, and $30,000 each of the past two years. Beyond that, the finances are still locked in a black box.
Or, should I say, a white box? Looking at photos and watching videos of past Kennebunkport Festivals is like viewing footage from a documentary about class and racial privilege in America. I think I spotted one face of color among the many hundreds of guests seen laughing as they slurped liquor and forked gourmet cuisine into their mouths. Black folks did appear from time to time, almost always carrying a platter of hors d’oeuvres for the guests to nibble on. Among the hotels featured in the videos was one called The Colony. You can’t make this shit up.
Tickets to many past events pushed or exceeded the $200 mark. This year’s ticket prices aren’t much more “inclusive.” The Chef’s Night Out, for example, will set you back $195, or the combined wealth of an entire city block in Roxbury.
In a video about last year’s fest, developer Tim Harrington, the founding partner of the Kennebunkport Resort Collection (KRC) — which Thomas described as “the backbone of the festival since the beginning” — said the festival “attracts a certain kind of person. It attracts someone that, of course, is attracted to beauty, to art, to the interest in food, but somehow that same type of person is an open, friendly, wanting to meet people” type of person. [Emphasis added.]
This interest in meeting new people seems odd, because one point repeatedly voiced in the videos by Thomas, Harrington and D’Amico is how much they love seeing the same people year after year. “I keep saying, which I love, your new hashtag about relationships,” Harrington opined last year as he and Thomas lounged by the sea. “And I mean really, that’s what it’s all about … this same group of people that seems to always be coming in and out of each other’s orbits and working together, promoting each other.”
“This is year five for me,” D’Amico said in 2017, “and the people we meet and the supporters we have from the festival are the same year after year.”
“What I love the most about it are the relationships,” Thomas said last year. “So we’ve been doing it for seven years, and the key players — the sponsors, the chefs, the musicians, the artists — have stayed nearly the same for seven years.”
“I mean, Kennebunkport. I mean, it doesn’t get more Maine than that,” said Chris Kast, brand director of The Brand Company, in a video posted to YouTube on April 27 of this year. “I mean, we’re at this incredible — the quintessential seaside community, in a weeklong event of celebration, and that’s all it is. There’s no hidden agendas, there’s no, no nothing other than everybody coming together and having a great time.”
“There really is a sense of community,” D’Amico claimed last year. “People truly care about one another and it’s like no place else on the earth.”
The roughly 45 people who used to work year-round at David’s KPT would most certainly call bullshit on that statement. On Monday, Oct. 30 of last year, employees of the high-end eatery inside the KRC-owned Boathouse Waterfront Hotel, in Kennebunkport, arrived for their shifts and discovered the restaurant was closed and would not be reopening until sometime this year, under a new chef and with a new concept. They were all out of work, with virtually no notice.
“I have a family to take care of,” one worker told the Press Herald. “I’m a single mom. I have a mortgage to pay. And no notification whatsoever from anybody.”
“I’m kind of in shock. I was just so blindsided,” another employee told the paper. “It was really upsetting.”
Harrington was at the restaurant that day “to project kindness,” he told Herald food writer Meredith Goad. He said it was “hard to believe” some workers hadn’t gotten any notice they’d been fired, because, as Goad wrote, “someone was there all day to speak to employees coming in for their [suddenly non-existent] shifts.” Again, you can’t make this shit up.
Harrington said the decision to shutter David’s KPT with no warning was “a legal matter, basically, and that’s the way that it goes down. We’re taking very good care of (the employees), over and above what was advised” — by the lawyers, apparently. “That’s just the way it has to happen.”
Which brings us back to Chef Turin. Turin cut all ties with MMC and the festival after he read The Bollard’s article and was contacted by several of the anonymous sources, who revealed their names to him and confirmed their accounts of the nightmare scenes inside the MMC office.
Under the arrangement with KRC, Turin owned all of the restaurant’s intellectual property, but none of its physical property. He owned David’s KPT, “the name on the sign, but not the sign it’s actually carved out of,” he said. “You ever heard of the Golden Rule?” he asked rhetorically. “He who has the gold, rules.” In this case, “the gold was controlled by the Kennebunk Resort Collection.”
Turin said he was flabbergasted when KRC told him they were closing the restaurant, because it had just had its most successful year to date. Like numerous MMC employees, he cannot tell the truth about what happened with KRC because he’s bound by a non-disclosure agreement. KRC “basically said, in no uncertain terms, ‘You talk about this, we’re gonna make your life really miserable,’” Turin told me. “They forbade me from even talking to any of the employees without threat.
“I would love it if I could speak freely about it, because it’s an interesting story,” he added. “And a lot of people did really get hurt absolutely senselessly. … I think that maybe [KRC] just, in the end, they didn’t like the idea that somebody else might have an opinion that would be different than theirs. And I have a lot of opinions.”
One opinion Turin can share is his disgust at the blatant racism he witnessed at KRC’s Kennebunkport hotel/restaurant over the years. The restaurant employed over 60 foreign workers during the summer, the “vast majority from Jamaica,” according to Turin.
“One of the things that was very notable was the racial bias of the community of our diners,” he said. “I can’t even tell you the number of times” and he paused, then told this story: “We had a valet service at our restaurant, free valet parking, and I would say three quarters of the staff were Jamaicans, people of color. And some of the freakin’ ugly comments. We actually had people say, ‘That one!’ — pointing at a white guy and a black guy, two valets on the stand — ‘That guy can’t drive my car.’ That kind of stuff.
“It was very weird for me,” Turin continued. “Here I am working with a whole workforce that’s [mostly people of color] and then you go out into the dining room and you’re like, ‘OK, there’s nobody of color in my restaurant except for [workers].’ I noticed it in that way.”
Reflecting on his relationship with MMC, Turin also found it strange. “It’s really almost a surreal kind of relationship, because, you know, Maine Media Collective called a lot of people ‘friends,’” he said. “I think it was part of the business model — ‘You’re the most special investigative reporter we’ve ever met. You’re the best in the world.’ And so a lot of people would say you’re friends. But are you really friends?”
The answer to that question was obvious.
*Clarification: In an earlier version of this story we asserted that Bill Nemitz was slated to be included in this year’s “50 Mainers” feature. Although Nemitz was among those informed that the feature is being postponed, he was not informed that he would be among the “50 Mainers” profiled this year.