State of Oklahoma amends lawsuit against Swadley’s, highlights further issues with restaurant chain

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Attorneys for the State of Oklahoma amended the state’s lawsuit against Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen, presenting new details on alleged issues within the restaurant chain.

The lawsuit in Oklahoma County District Court stems from a controversial state contract with Swadley’s.

The amended lawsuit states that Swadley’s personnel hired an “illegal” employee who later allegedly assaulted another employee.

It also says residential, not commercial, smoke alarms were installed in one restaurant.

The lawsuit, included below, lists several ways in which Swadley’s allegedly breached its contact with the state.

Swadley’s filed a 73-page answer to the amended lawsuit, saying the amended lawsuit “is little more than an effort to manufacture controversy and generate headlines.” That document is included below:

State officials sought to improve visitor experience at many state parks, including investing in state-owned facilities across the state.

“As part of this investment in an improved visitor experience, the Tourism Department decided to remodel five restaurants located in Oklahoma State Parks,” the lawsuit states. “The Tourism Department sought an experienced third-party to facilitate the remodel and the day-to-day operation of these restaurants.”

During that time, in 2020, Swadley’s operated several restaurants in cities and towns across the OKC metro area, and had experience remodeling and repurposing existing restaurants.

Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen. Photo from KFOR.

Officials say the Tourism Department paid $13 million to Swadley’s to renovate and run the Foggy Bottom Kitchens in certain Oklahoma state parks.

Those payments include $2.1 million to cover operating losses in 2021. The current contract requires the state to pay up to $1.2 million for annual operating losses.

House Speaker Charles McCall formed a special House committee on April 28 to investigate potential misuse of taxpayer funds through vendor agreements with the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.

Gov. Kevin Stitt announced on April 29 that he accepted the resignation of Jerry Winchester, who had served as Executive Director of the Tourism Department, and that he was filing a lawsuit against Swadley’s.

“The Tourism Department entered the Contract believing it to be a mutually beneficial arrangement that would benefit the State of Oklahoma, its citizens, and Swadley’s,” the lawsuit states. “While the State did receive some benefit from the Contract, unfortunately, the Contract eventually became solely beneficial to Swadley’s and to Plaintiff’s detriment.”

The Frontier learned in May that Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell signed off on about $16.7 million worth of expenses for the Foggy Bottom Kitchen restaurants in Oklahoma state parks. 

When Stitt announced Winchester’s resignation, he also said Pinnell would take more oversight of the Tourism Department.

Tourism and Recreation Department officials announced in April that the department was canceling the lease concession agreement with Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen.