Crow & the Pitcher co-owner Michael Franco heard about the charges against Alex Capasso – a chef/partner in their elegant Rittenhouse area eatery — as many did: at the end of a Friday through smartphone tsunami.
"It was July 24 and I was coming into work when I got a 'no-way-you've-got-to-see-this' text from one of my bartenders," says Franco. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing."
Neither could Georges Perrier, a Philadelphia chef legend and one-time employer of both Capasso and Franco. "It was horrible and inconceivable," Perrier said.
What Franco read disgusted him: Capasso had been arrested and charged in a federal child pornography investigation after he was caught allegedly sending undercover task force agents — across state lines — explicit photographs of a 5-year-old niece of his ex-girlfriend, shots insinuating he was the phtographer.
After telling that allegedly agent about sexually abusing that same girl, Capasso allegedly said he couldn't wait to molest his own soon-to-be born daughter (his current girlfriend is pregnant) the first time he was alone with her.
"I was shocked," says Franco. "So was our partner Prajakta [Harshe-Patharkar]. "I did however know something was up with Alex as he wasn't in work that whole week. His girlfriend texted me to open the restaurant that Tuesday, then again on Wednesday to say he wouldn't be in. I figured he was arrested, but nothing such as this."
Capasso's lawyer, Maranna J. Meehan, did not respond to calls for comment by press-time.
Franco also knew he had workers at Crow & the Pitcher to consider: sous chefs, line cooks, waiters, washers and bartenders, and felt something had to be done to let the neighborhood regulars and local diners know that no money earned since Capasso's arrest would go into his pocket for his legal defense.
"He isn't going to see a dime of this money," Franco said tersely. "There is no involvement with us or financial support. He's out."
Crow & the Pitcher lawyer George Lavin reiterated this in an email, stating how Franco and Co. is moving swiftly to be transparent with the public, that Capasso is disassociated from the restaurant and that no portion of any profits will go to him.
"There are, however, complications," Lavin wrote. "Capasso filed for personal bankruptcy," (making him a disassociated, nonvoting member of their LLC, according to Franco) "and we are unaware of the status of that proceeding. We are working to obtain those papers to judge the impact on the disassociation."
All parties want Capasso's name stricken from the Crow — a name with which they're likely to rebrand their 50-seat, French-inspired South19th Street restaurant — from its liquor license and his role as executive chef, a job that's currently being held by Perrier.
"Everyone from the neighborhood has been so supportive, it's moved me to tears dining here without a hitch, restauranteurs offering to help buy groceries. Then Georges called," Franco said.
Franco worked for Perrier as a sommelier for six years before opening the Crow (Capasso also worked for the French chef at Brasserie Perrier) and had remained friends with the Le Bec Fin legend. It was Franco and not Capasso (as reported) who was gifted Perrier's cheese cart when Le Bec closed. "I was working with Marc Vetri in his restaurant the night the news broke and was dumbstruck," says Perrier. "I got off the line to call Michael. I just wanted to help immediately."
Franco says Perrier offered his aid that night and with Crow sous chef Gregory Headen began rewriting the Crow's menu — which still reflected winter's fare — for the Aug. 4 start of Restaurant Week and beyond with "a bistro" feel. For this, Perrier is taking no money. "Michael and his crew worked too hard for too long to make the Crow work," he said. "I will help them in whatever way they need for however long they need me."
What's next for The Crow
Starting Tuesday, Perrier's lighter, "straightforward" menu goes into effect for lunch and dinner with new items like Romanesco cauliflower with Mascarpone cheese, sultanas, pecans and brown butter, Roasted Lancaster chicken, with pommes puree, haricot verts and pan-seared Sea Scallop with house made cappellini, charred sweet corn and English pea puree.
There will be a great emphasis on their cheese cart with rarer summery items than previous.
After Restaurant Week, Franco, Headen and Perrier will expand the menu even further.
"We want Georges here for as long as he wants to be here," Franco said.