Acadiana Business

Where's Gabe (Part 2)?

by Leslie Turk

Bako's has already shut down, which could be a record for Lafayette's most short-lived but highly anticipated restaurant venture.

Word over the weekend that Bako's Mexican restaurant had shut down after less than three months initially appeared to have been inaccurate. On Tuesday morning, Richard Dunbar, one of Gabe Bako's partners in the new venture, told the INDsider that the Mexican eatery was forced to close temporarily to repair a drainage problem. "We're doing some construction work; we have to make some repairs," Dunbar said. "We've got some drainage issues, and you can't serve food while you're doing plumbing work."

A sign (which has since been removed) was posted on the door Tuesday morning, telling customers the restaurant was closed for repairs and would be serving them again soon. At that time Dunbar said it was too soon to know how long the repairs would take.

But if that's the case, why would Dunbar and Bako have told the employees Saturday night that the restaurant was shutting down for financial reasons? A former manager, who asked not to be identified, called early this afternoon to set the record straight. "They said, 'It's not going to work. We're going to give up,'" the ex-employee says.

The employees who were let go were furious when they read Dunbar's comments about why the restaurant had closed (Bako did not return a phone call for the Tuesday story). "They can't man up," the worker says. "It's certainly not reopening."

The former manager says more than 50 people are now out of work. Business was slow, the manager says, and Bako's was struggling just to make the rent.

Neither Dunbar nor Bako returned phone calls and text messages this morning. A champagne-colored Chevy Tahoe was parked in the back of the restaurant about 10 a.m., but no one answered the back door.

Former employees are seeking jobs elsewhere, also telling potential employers the INDsider spoke with that Bako's has shut down permanently.

Serranos Salso Company, which still has the lease on the Johnston Street building after an unsucccessful run in Lafayette, subleased to Bako last year. One of Serranos' owners, attorney David Halpern of New Orleans, could not be reached for comment, and a voice message left at the corporate office was not immediately returned.

The shuttering of Bako's, which opened Nov. 1, could be a record for Lafayette's most short-lived but highly anticipated restaurant venture.

A split last year with La Fonda founder Leebob Cox's children, Stephanie Cox Gagnard and Sherwood Cox, led longtime general manager and part-owner Bako to sell his interest in La Fonda and strike out on his own. Bako partnered with La Fonda's former kitchen manager, Dunbar, and Sylvia Lopez in the new restaurant.

The former Bako's manager believes Gabe Bako went into business for all the wrong reasons. "You can't open a business out of revenge," the manager says.

Read more about the bitter split between Bako and Leebob's children here.