It's no secret that upscale Streeterville retailer Fox & Obel has been in financial trouble for some time— it failed to pay rent earlier this year, and the rumor is that paychecks are now bouncing, Still, even as the quality of the store declined, one undeniable bright spot in the store remained: the bakery launched and run for a decade by Pamela Fitzpatrick, whose crusty, traditional breads were universally admired and used by numerous restaurants in town. So Steve Dolinsky's report of Fitzpatrick's termination on Friday, just before the holiday weekend and the year's end, is an unmistakably bad sign for the troubled retailer.
Dolinsky reports that Fitzpatrick was called into a meeting by store Partner Bill Bolton on the pretext of a meeting about plans for the new year, and then told that she was being terminated. For now the bakery continues under her assistant Eliu Rodriguez, but obviously the future of the entire Fox & Obel operation is in doubt.
Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, remains an extremely well-liked and respected star in the baking community, and the question is less what she'll do next than whether she'll do it in Chicago. A former Hollywood marketing manager who left the business to study baking at the bottom of the totem pole at Los Angeles' legendary La Brea Bakery under Nancy Silverton and Mark Peel, Fitzpatrick was recruited by Rich Melman to work for Corner Bakery, and when she launched Fox & Obel's bakery in 2000, it was Corner Bakery cofounder Jean Joho who paved her way finto fine dining restaurants by taking her breads for Everest and Brasserie Jo.
Dolinsky says that as the writing on the wall at Fox & Obel became apparent, Melman approached her about another venture within the Lettuce empire, and she has also talked with Dan Barber of New York's Blue Hill at Stone Barns about creating a bakery there. It's clear that her departure from the bakery she was synonymous with won't retard her career, but the goal of making Chicago a first-class bread-baking city just slipped a little further away.