“I want people to know that I am no longer associated with this unorganized and unprofessional organization,” Vatche Meguerditchian writes in an e-mail disclosing his Wednesday resignation. “I am sure they will mess up my menu.”
According to Meguerditchian, he and the first-time restaurateurs behind the three-month old Leyla had clashing philosophies from the start: He felt they micromanaged “a chef of my stature” by involving themselves in daily kitchen operations. But he says he made the decision to leave immediately when he was denied a glass of Scotch after work.
“I gave my 110 percent, but I saw that this was gonna be due sooner or later,” he writes.
Meguerditchian reports he’s returning to Los Angeles, where he ran Alcazar, a Lebanese restaurant twice named to critic Jonathan Gold’s list of 99 “essential” L.A. eating spots.
Leyla’s owner, College of Charleston professor Dolly Awkar, first befriended Meguerditchian as a Beirut partygoer in the 1970s; Meguerditchian, an internationally-renowned Armenian singing star, played guitar in Lebanese bands before pursuing a restaurant career in California.
When she decided to open Leyla, Awkar tracked down Meguerditchian on Facebook, hoping he’d give her an insider’s advice. He initially offered to spend a few months in her kitchen, but later indicated he might stay on after training the staff.
“Now that I’m here, I love Charleston, I love the city,” Meguerditchian told me in September. “I love the people. At night, I’m going out, I can see the vibe. I can see people here love food.”
Awkar says the plan always called for Meguerditchian to work on a temporary basis.
“I have two other chefs,” she says. “We are in very good shape.”
When I formally reviewed Leyla earlier this month, I was highly impressed by the food, awarding the young restaurant three stars; only the sluggish service and enervated ambiance detracted from the excellent salads and spiced meats, which Awkar maintains her current chefs have mastered.
As for Meguerditchian, he’s planning to focus on “catering; my hummos, baba ghannouj (and) garlic paste branding and distribution; and last but not least, my singing career that I had on hold since I came to Charleston.” He adds he hasn’t ruled out opening a new Alcazar in L.A.