Chef Domenica Macchia no longer at Three Birds Tavern

Chef Domenica Macchia and Three Birds Tavern separate.

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"We took her to New York City in August, spent time working with her on the fall menu," she said. "We get back and things are good for a couple weeks. Suddenly, in mid-September, things changed. She wasn't working normal hours, she was mistreating staff, it was the same-old, same-old we heard from other employers."

According to King, Macchia left work early last Thursday and called off for the remainder of the weekend. King said she then received an email from Macchia stating she was quitting. King said when they found out she had spoken to other employers, her husband and Three Birds co-owner, lawyer Jack King, reminded Macchia she had a contract.

"We have a tight employment contract that puts her at risk for finding employment in the area," King said. "There is a financial penalty and she can't work in Pinellas County until March of 2014."

But Macchia said she was out sick, not seeking alternative employment.

"I've had a double ear infection since last Thursday. I've never taken a sick day in a year and a half but I got sick last week," Macchia said. "Now I'm getting sued and am being followed by a private investigator."

Macchia said after King told her to get to work when she had called in sick, she sent an email giving two weeks' notice.

"Jack said his private investigator saw me at the Horse & Jockey [a British pub in South Pasadena], and said that he would bring me and the next restaurant I try to work at down," Macchia said. "I was never interviewing with anyone, I just went there to eat. I can't help it if people ask me for advice on their menus, it is part of the nature of what I do, it's part of the business."

Macchia arrived to finish her two weeks and Jack King sent her home stating that she "looked high."

"It reminded me of being 18 and hearing my grandmother talk about people saying they were 'on the pot.' I don't make enough money to buy pot," Macchia joked. "I'm 48 and on three kinds of antibiotics, not high."

Macchia says King also informed her that he was suing her for breach of contract to the tune of $10,000.

"He said, 'Why are you back?' I said I have a doctor's note saying 'Return to work Monday,' so I'm here to work," Macchia said. "He wouldn't let me in the kitchen."

Robin King said Macchia's departure was entirely for her own reasons and that nothing prompted the move on their part.

"It's her own chaos in her personal life," she said. "The longest she's worked anywhere is six months. We had her for a year and a half, and that was due to tolerance on our part."

But according to Macchia, the Kings "loomed" over her constantly, causing her to have regular panic attacks and creating an unhealthy work environment.

"I need money but I don't need it that bad," Macchia said. "Now I have to be afraid that I'll never work in St. Pete again. I love this town."

King said she has already met with candidates to replace Macchia. The menus will have to be reprinted, sans Macchia's name; "Macchia-roni," for instance, will be renamed.

"Robin and Jack are frustrated but it's a bump in the road," King said, referring to herself and her husband. "We're not happy, but Three Birds Tavern is. We'll survive. We just had our biggest weekend since June this past weekend."

Macchia said she isn't getting a lawyer because she can't afford one.

"I have no money, what are they going to do? Take my dogs?" Macchia said. "Robin and Jack are like a scorned girlfriend; If we can't have you, then no one can."

But Macchia is in high spirits despite her current predicament.

"Since I have a private investigator following me, if I go out and get drunk, will he drive me home?" Macchia joked. "Since I can't work here until 2014, I'm hoping the Mayan calendar is correct. But if you know anyone hiring, I'm not cheap, but I am inexpensive."

  • Macchia in 2009, when CL's then-restaurant critic Brian Ries named her Best Chef.

Only a few weeks after Three Birds Tavern rolled out its fall menu, Chef Domenica Macchia has quit. Owner Robin King didn't mince words on the departure.

"It's true, and we just put out a menu with her name all over it," she said. "She has shit on yet another restaurant owner."

Before Three Birds, the Best of the Bay-winning Macchia worked at Bella Brava, and before that the now-defunct MJ's Martini & Tapas, Diner 437 and Shackleton's Folly .

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