I just got off the phone with John Thacker, a partner in Blackbird Kitchen & Bar and stepfather of chef/co-owner Carina Lampkin.
The restaurant on 1000 block of Ninth Street shut its doors Monday, and the owners told shocked employees in an email.
Thacker read the previous post, in which I noted that Lampkin could not be contacted, and immediately said he would comment extensively.
Blackbird was a potentially good restaurant, with an artistic and quirky side that sometimes led to inconsistency and poor hiring decisions. Lampkin, for instance, once told me early on that she was only going to hire artists as servers, prompting me to wonder, “Why? Customers want polished, knowledgeable servers, not people with good brushstroke technique.”
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Thacker told me the quirky/creative/high-end image was something Blackbird could never really escape.
“We appeared a little too high-end and boutique-y and quirky at the beginning, and that it was a costly meal we put on the plate,” he said. “At the beginning, it was my hope that the bar could support the kitchen. My fear was that Sacramento would not support what was coming out of the kitchen at this time in that location. I qualify that statement in that way because I absolutely feel that downtown is not a lost cause.”
Thacker noted that Lampkin suffered a near-fatal car accident in 2006 when she was struck by an uninsured motorist. She received a “substantial settlement” but had serious physical issues that persisted.
“This venture originated with the notion that because Carina has a permanent disability, she’s never going to be physically 100 percent,” Thacker said. “She trained and had a passion for an occupation that is physically demanding. In order for her to continue in this industry, where she clearly had a talent and a passion, it was not feasible or practical to work as a line chef. The idea was that she had some money and we were willing to put up some money so she could have some flexibility with her work.”
The colorful Lampkin responded to my text message by writing, “Let them know Lampkin was happy with the outcry of support. Was happy to serve Sacramento. Get back to you soon.”
Asked about the email to employees, which some have characterized as hurtful, Thacker said he “agonized” over how best to get the word out.
“The decision was up to the last minute. People were going to be showing up for work in 12 hours, and how do we make sure they do not show up?” he said.
Referring to the top employees at the restaurant, Thacker said he was not worried they would be out of work for long, given their skill set.
“Knowing that most of the employees won’t have much trouble finding work made this a little easier,” he said.