The so-called “free meal broker” is accused of improving small business and food insecurity non-profit – News Couple

The so-called “free meal broker” is accused of improving small business and food insecurity non-profit

After two years working with kitchen commissary BonBite NYC, food insecurity nonprofit ReThink Food has become accustomed to strange, unexplained fees on rent checks.

But on June 10, 2020, they received what should have been a surprise bill. The nonprofit was working with the fast, informal Made Nice concept for Eleven Madison Park, but that didn’t explain why BonBite suddenly charged them as much as $8,800 a month for a curious “Eleven Madison Park labor compensation.”

Bonbite’s owner, Winston Chew, kept charging them a similar fee every month until they finally left his place in December of that year. An anonymous source close to ReThink isn’t even positive what these charges were supposed to be for.

According to documents obtained by Forbes and reports from sources close to BonBite, Chiu, a prominent food insecurity activist, is listed in the 40 Under 40 2021 Center for Food Policy of Hunter College New York, described by The New York Times in August 2020 as the energy broker’s “Free Meals,” routinely adds non-essential rent check surcharges to tenants in his co-op kitchen at Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Chiu is a former co-founder of ReThink Food along with current co-founders Matt Jozwiak and Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park. Chiu has worked with prominent chefs like René Redzepi, runs the for-profit “influence agency” Feed Forward, and was an investor in the popular Little Tong Noodle Shop before it closed.

Since stepping down as co-founder of ReThink Food in mid-2020, it appears that these accusations and the recklessness of his business practices in general have escalated dramatically.

Chiu introduced the kitchen space to rethink dining from 2018 through December 2020 through his company. A source close to the situation says that since the beginning of their association with ReThink, BonBite, “never would sign a lease agreement… we kept going back and forth, like, ‘Why don’t you sign something?'” ”

Unconventional rental agreements that vary wildly in rates from month to month seem to be a topic with BonBite. Several sources with links to current and former tenants of the kitchen space report being pressured to sign contracts and even non-disclosure agreements without the presence or approval of a lawyer, mentioning that Chiu tricked them into moving into the venue before signing the lease, and says he refuses to show the tenants utility bills. These companies originally agreed to call it this piece but have all since withdrew their names in order to protect their livelihoods.

In one case, a company was told that it would have to grant Chiu the property rights to remain in its space without being subjected to a rent increase from $1,900 to $7,000 over three years for a 450-square-foot lot. This story closely mirrors ReThink’s account of how Chiu was named as co-founder.

Forbes obtained invoices from another small business tenant showing a rent increase from $1,400 to $4,300 over just five months for a small kitchen space.

According to a ReThink Food employee, Chiu’s opaque maintenance of the facility eventually led the nonprofit organization to go to BonBite to renovate the kitchen space. Several tenants described the facility as unsafe. BonBite has been known to charge tenants for equipment and even office space that either doesn’t exist, belongs to another tenant, or doesn’t work, and two existing tenants have reported being electrocuted from shoddy kitchen equipment. In the midst of the 2019 remodel, ReThink prices have skyrocketed. At one point, $500,000—thirty percent of the nonprofit’s total budget of $1.6 million—go directly to BonBite.

ReThink Food’s volume exploded during 2020, quickly climbing to $20 million in budget and becoming national, according to the source. Forbes obtained invoices from January to November of 2020 confirming its claim that rental checks during that period often include vague fees called “labor” or even simply “fees.” Depending on the month, these documents detail widely varying rent checks ranging from $22,000 to $30,000. When the ReThink team questioned these charges, they would disappear and then randomly return.

A ReThink Food spokesperson provided the following statement about their association with BonBite: “BonBite has provided kitchen space and other facilities for ReThink Food until December 2020. We no longer do any business with BonBite.”

We reached out to Winston Chew, and he made the following statement:

Bonbite NYC Inc. Small startups by providing production space. Our shared kitchen facilities are offered at discounted rates of up to 30-50% compared to industry standard rates for the same or similar space. All fees are contractually agreed upon prior to commencement of any use of our facilities. Bonbite NYC categorically opposes any negligent maintenance of its facilities. The Ministry of Health inspected the facility. Furthermore, we perform regular facility maintenance and have a consultant who advises us on safety and compliance.

We’ve also reached out to his former business partner Kylie Schaeffer, who declined to speak to us regarding this article.

Many of Chiu’s tenants have come to him because of his vexed weapon personality and his ties to Eleven Madison Park. This name means something not only in the New York restaurant community but around the world.

But sometimes, a name is just a name.

In an email, Chiu said, “I am writing this email in response to your email received earlier this morning, and I am only addressing your specific questions regarding ‘false charges’ and ‘negligent maintenance’… We are disappointed that someone Make these false claims. We can provide existing tenants for your investigation. We know you want to be accurate in your reporting.”

He declined a follow-up interview.

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