“All I know is that when I got involved and started looking at things, I just thought, ‘My God, what a mess this is,’ ” says Cohen, the 75-year-old president and chief executive of the Tabard Corp., the family- and employee-owned restaurant and hotel carved out of three late-19th-century rowhouses near Dupont Circle.
“One of the things I’ve learned,” Cohen adds, “is the fact that something is profitable doesn’t mean it’s well managed.”
The two sides — former and current employees; the owner and her advisers — are locked in a battle in which they are fighting for the same goal. They both say they want to save the Tabard Inn, a 91-year-old boutique hotel that long ago reached iconic status for its idiosyncratic, antiques-rich decor, its sumptuous weddings and its widely praised weekend brunch. And both sides are willing to stir the pot, whether with staff firings or potential lawsuits, to ensure that the Tabard continues pampering locals and international visitors for years to come.
Where the two sides differ is on how to move the Tabard forward — and how much of the past to take with them.
The matriarch of the Cohen family, Fritzi, says she wants to drag her business into the 21st century and install a proper accounting department and the kind of fiscal and management controls required of a company owned in part by its employees. She quickly adds that she would have preferred to make these modifications out of public view, in large part, she says, because she doesn’t want to embarrass her own flesh and blood. Jeremiah Cohen, her son, served as general manager of the Tabard for 18 years, until his firing in May. He was the man, says newly installed Tabard board member Keith Stavrum, who cultivated an environment in which employees allegedly worked overtime but weren’t always paid and in which one manager was apparently selling Avon products out of the basement.
To former and current employees, however, Jeremiah Cohen was part of what made the Tabard Inn special. He was not only a link to the founding principles behind the business but also the GM who nurtured its family-like environment, where people would work for years, sometimes decades, defying the high turnover rate of the hospitality industry. He understood the special issues of a building that was more than 100 years old. He oversaw a business that generated bonuses twice a year for employees, and he inspired deep loyalty among the staff.