From Crain’s Chicago Business: Charlie Trotter halts auction midstream

Charlie Trotter called off an auction of the contents of his famed restaurant about a third of the way through the event yesterday.

Anticipation of the auction was building for weeks as details of the estimated 1,600 items that would go on the block were made public. About 10 percent of the listing was already on reserve by Monday from individuals who wanted a guarantee they’d get a personal keepsake of culinary history, according to Kevin Bunte, president of Bunte Auction Services Inc., the Elgin-based firm in charge of the auction.

Chicago foodies and business professionals who celebrated successful deals and commemorated milestones at the restaurant throughout of its 25 years filled the restaurant Wednesday for a chance to take home a memento.

Before the formal bidding began on the estimated 1,600 items on the block, Mr. Trotter, legendary enfant terrible of the culinary world known for smashing plates in the kitchen and reducing staff to tears, warned the audience that he might pull some items if he didn’t think the bids were rising high enough.

Mr. Bunte said he has never had a client pull the plug on an auction midstream in the 28-year history of his firm’s existence.

“Nothing ever goes exactly as planned, but (Mr. Trotter) stopping it like that in the middle was a surprise even though he had mentioned he might do it,” said Mr. Bunte. “Obviously, we were very disappointed.”

Mr. Trotter was not available for comment.

Some sculptures and original photographs by Chicagoan Paul Elledge were sold, as well as a Viennese Secessionist settee that sold for $2,000. But Mr. Trotter ended the auction before bidders could get a chance at some of the coveted Bernardaud Limoges china, Riedel stemware or Roux-Marquiand flatware custom-designed for the restaurant.

Never mind those who were upset they never got the opportunity to wave their numbered paddles for something they had circled in the catalog. Worse still, a British woman attending the auction who was high bidder on one of several menus signed by a famous visiting chef was visibly angry when she approached the front desk to pay for it later in the afternoon and was told that Mr. Trotter had changed his mind and refused to sell it after all. The woman, who declined to reveal her name, was enraged and said she had a right to take it home. As of Thursday afternoon, the matter was still unresolved, said Mr. Bunte.

A Chicago-based marketing consultant in the music industry, John Gabrysiak counted more than 100 meals at the restaurant over the past 10 years with clients and friends.

At the top of his bidding wish list were some of the framed, signed menus from the restaurant’s walls and an eclectic sculpture of a knife and fork he had admired as he walked through the front entrance. He successfully bid on a menu signed by Fredy Girardet, a French culinary legend, for $60.

Mr. Gabrysiak left the auction early and returned to his office to continue bidding via the live Internet stream. “The website kept having trouble loading, but I couldn’t figure out why,” he says. “Now I know. The auction was over.”

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