A recent hit with food critics and restaurant-goers, Brooklyn, New York, restaurant Gwynnett St. is now a crime scene. Its owner, Carl McCoy, 37, was arrested on December 11, 2013, by Homeland Security agents. He was accused of receiving from China packages of methylone, a compound similar to MDMA. (MDMA is also known as ecstasy or molly; various media sources covering the Gwnnett St. scandal have erroneously referred to methylone as molly or as crystal meth.)
Homeland Security also arrested a contractor who’d helped McCoy found the restaurant, Omar Calixto Herrera, 32. Investigators allege
that McCoy had planned to deliver to Herrera the substance, which had been placed under an emergency ban by the Drug Enforcement Agency in 2011.
Agents had intercepted the suspicious package, which when shaken sounded like it was full of small rocks, at John F. Kennedy International Airport. They questioned its addressee, McCoy, and showed him a photo of the package. He answered their questions and agreed to wear a wire to a meeting with Herrera to hand over the package, replaced by a decoy for the occasion.
McCoy, a Kansas City, Missouri, native, researched the restaurant business in Rome and had his first US restaurant job in Philadelphia. He served as a captain and then as wine director at Dave Pasternack’s lauded Manhattan seafood restaurant, Esca, before opening Gwynnett St. in early 2012.
He has cooperated with Homeland Security, and acknowledged that he knew that the methylone, for which he received $1000 per shipment, is an illegal substance. His lawyer, Michelle K. Gelernt, dodged further comment. Rumors suggest that the restaurant wasn’t making money and that McCoy may have taken the criminal-shipment deal to in an attempt to save his business and stave off investors’ demands.
On hearing of McCoy’s arrest, Gwynnett St.’s chef, Owen Clark, 30, and several other kitchen and front-of-house staff members quit, effectively closing the restaurant. Their paychecks had bounced in the past, including the week before McCoy’s arrest. They now feared they could be in physical danger, and they decided to reject the potential international drug trafficking associations by distancing themselves from the troubled establishment.
Until Clark explained his departure to the food blog Eater, Gwynnett St. representatives had denied the drug allegations via Twitter and claimed on the restaurant’s website that the restaurant was closed for “unforeseen renovations.”
McCoy and his restaurant had reportedly been having financial trouble. Released on $25,000 bail (Herrera hasn’t made bail and remains in detention), McCoy told the Daily News that the whole thing was a misunderstanding. He vowed to The Times to have his restaurant open again by New Year’s Eve, if only for bar snacks and its complex $12 cocktails. He said he’d been planning to scale the menu back to better appeal to neighborhood diners anyway. While the old Italian neighborhood has gentrified in recent years as Williamsburg became a hipster hotspot—and though Gwynnett St. won raves for its original menu under chef Justin Hilbert, including lamb breast, scallops with nettles, and $5 whiskey bread—locals may have balked at his $120 tasting menus, and Manhattanites may have been slow to reach its East Williamsburg destination.
McCoy’s place at 312 Graham Avenue isn’t the only acclaimed Williamsburg spot to encounter trouble. Taavo Summer’s Isa also simplified its ambitious menu to get more reliable regulars in 2012. Colin Devlin, whose sophisticated and long-standing Dressler faced a crippling rent hike thanks to the area’s exploding popularity, killed himself in July 2013.
McCoy is said to be cooperating with investigators. He’ll be indicted in Brooklyn Federal Court within a month of his arrest, likely for conspiracy to possess illegal drugs, with intent to distribute.