Jimmy King and Brian Rowe, current operators of The Penguin in Plaza-Midwood, and Lisa Ballentine of the Ballentine family, who owns the building and Penguin name, confirmed Tuesday that King and Rowe will move on after Oct. 24. The Ballentines declined to renew King and Rowe's lease.
"Everybody's cool, everybody's friends," said King, who with Rowe and chef Greg Auten took over running the place about 10 years ago. "We love the Ballentines and I think they love us. That's all I've got to say." Said Rowe: "We've known the family 10 years."
Ballentine had earlier likened the situation to a romantic breakup: "There's strong language ... but at the end of the day, you still love each other." In a nod to the tumult, she did add, "Yeah, the lease was coming to an end, but you were going out with another girl anyway (the Diamond; see below)... We're all doing what's best for the Penguin."
The three met late into the night Monday, says Ballentine, not about an "eleventh-hour deal," but "honestly (because) all of us freaked out over the Internet and television" tempest that began Monday morning. Facebook and Twitter were bombarded with postings (including the hashtag #penguingate on Twitter, and tweets that included links to Venn diagrams), and television cameras appeared on site.
And angst still exists in the community, despite the apparent smoothing over among the principals. A Penguin fan page on Facebook, which hadn't had a new posting since January 2009, now has as its status "Come experience The Penguin Drive-In without it's soul" (yes, spelled that way), while a Facebook event titled "Boycott the Penguin as of Oct. 24th" had more than 2,000 people planning to "attend" (or, rather, not attend, since it's a boycott) by about 5 p.m. Tuesday.
"We have nothing to do with that," said King.
UPDATE: Event creator Mark Cline lives in China Grove and says he created the boycott event "as a little sign of support" and sent it to "a few friends." "I have to say, this is completely blown out of proportion ... half the people boycotting are the same hipsters that put the Bird where it is today, going out of business ... I'm sure I'll have to pull the plug on this soon."
Those concerned about the change at the Penguin fall broadly into two categories:
- People who dislike the new plan for the Penguin, which includes franchising by experienced Charlotte franchisor Martin Sprock, and the return of Auten (who left about five months ago to open a new place) as part of the operation prepping for franchising, and,
- People who feel an allegiance to King and Rowe, and have expressed their intent to "move along" with them as they prepare to reopen The Diamond. That restaurant business, also an icon among Charlotte businesses, was purchased by the pair, along with Andy Kastanas of Soul Gastrolounge, this year. Extensive renovations have been done and it is slated to reopen as an "updated" diner by the end of October or beginning of November. (Plans call for it to be open 24 hours a day eventually.) "We remain firmly committed to this neighborhood," King said in a press release.
Ballentine combats accusations of "forcing out" King and Rowe by saying she plans to do another project with them, though she won't say more than that it won't be a restaurant and it will be in Plaza-Midwood. King and Rowe declined to comment, beyond saying "we've talked about some ideas. It's too early to say anything."