Swadley's contract
The homepage of the Swadley's Foggy Bottom Kitchen website appears to show The Winchester Burger, named for Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department director Jerry Winchester, who approved the company's lucrative contract with the state agency. (Screenshot)

With a criminal investigation ongoing, the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department has canceled its controversial state park restaurant contract with Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen “due to suspected fraudulent activity and questionable business practices.”

The state agency sent Swadley’s a four-page letter this morning and made its public announcement via press release.

“In early fall 2021, the department initiated an internal investigation after reports of financial irregularities were brought to our attention. Financial payments for construction costs were immediately halted in September, while management fees were suspended in December,” said David White, the department’s director of public information and government affairs. “After extensive review, it has become clear the continuation of the agreement with Foggy Bottom Kitchen is not in the best interest of Oklahoma taxpayers.”

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater requested that the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation open an inquiry into the Swadley’s contract in late March, and he has also asked State Auditor & Inspector Cindy Byrd to look into allegations that the barbecue company inflated reimbursement invoices to the Tourism Department. Questions also linger regarding how the state agency selected Swadley’s for the lucrative contract, which guarantee coverage of operating losses.

“While the transition won’t be easy, our first duty is to safeguard taxpayer funds,” White said. “Oklahoma state parks staff are reaching out to all existing reservations to ensure any catering needs are fulfilled. Department staff are also working with local small businesses to find creative solutions to meet park guest demands until new restaurant operations can begin in the newly remodeled facilities. Per the agreement, all improvements made to state park restaurants by Swadley’s remain property of the state of Oklahoma.”

In early April, Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell told NonDoc that the Swadley’s contract would be amended. Three weeks later, however, the contract has been terminated.

“Terminating the agreement is the department’s first step. We are continuing to cooperate with investigators and auditors to determine the extent to which unlawful behavior has been perpetuated against the state,” White said. “The department is also exploring options to recover any taxpayer dollars paid to the operator for services or items for which the department was invoiced but ultimately not provided.”

‘Unauthorized access to the restaurants will be considered trespass’

Brent Swadley
Brent Swadley speaks during a Navigate Conference in March 2018. (Screenshot)

First reported by The Frontier, the Tourism Department letter (embedded below) outlines a series of requirements for the restaurant company to meet in the next 48 and 72 hours. It also contains statements regarding pending reimbursements that have been halted.

“No monies will be released by the department until the department has a true accounting and reconciliation of all monies already paid to Swadley’s,” the letter states. “The department shall not release any additional payments until the forensic audit is completed by the Oklahoma State Auditor’s Office.”

The department prohibited Swadley’s from visiting the state park restaurants without prior approval.

“No [Foggy Bottom Kitchen] employees, agents, officers or representatives are to appear on any state park property restaurant location unannounced or unaccompanied,” the letter states. “Any attempted unauthorized access to the restaurants will be considered trespass.”

Early Saturday evening, Swadley’s BBQ released a statement about the state park contract on Facebook:

The Swadley’s family is dedicated to integrity and loving support of each other and the incredible employees that have chosen to work for us. We also want to thank the many customers and guests who have recently reached out in support of our restaurants.

From the beginning, every aspect of the Foggy Bottom Kitchen project has been directed and approved by state officials. We stand by our team and all that we have done to benefit the people of our beautiful state.

Our objective has always been to offer an exceptional dining experience that is noteworthy and enjoyable for the visitors of our state parks. Foggy Bottom Kitchen’s intent is to benefit our state’s tourism department by improving tourism to our state parks. From this project, the state of Oklahoma has obtained millions worth of assets and Oklahomans now have access to the dramatically improved facilities at these state parks. Visits to the state parks have increased and the local economies within these communities have benefited greatly from the hundreds of jobs created in otherwise very rural areas.

Again, we are sincerely grateful for our valued customers and guests and their commitment to always telling others about the great food and service they enjoy at Swadley’s.

And finally, as a family and as a company, we deeply appreciate and value your support and kindness.

Company founder Brent Swadley previously told NonDoc that he was not worried about the criminal investigation.

“It’ll all come out. We didn’t do anything wrong. It will all come out with the investigation and all this stuff,” Swadley said. “We’re not worried or concerned.”

In a 2018 video of Swadley speaking at a conference, the barbecue magnate described his business philosophy in terms that have caught the attention of Prater and state lawmakers concerned about the state parks contract.


Brent Swadley

Brent Swadley in 2018: ‘Wouldn’t be where I’m at today if I followed by the rules’ by Tres Savage

“My mom and dad taught me something years ago: Fake it ’til you make it. It’s OK,” Swadley told attendees of a Navigate Conference. “I bootlegged barbecue. I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if I followed by the rules and satisfied all the permits and all the legalities and stuff out there. Sometimes you’ve just got to go out there and do it and don’t worry about it.”

Despite reports that Swadley told people he had a “direct line to the governor,” Gov. Kevin Stitt said last week that he does not know Swadley personally and does not have his cell phone number.

“I feel like I’ve met all 4 million Oklahomans at some point or another, so I have no idea if I’ve shaken his hand somewhere. But no, I don’t know him, have no idea who he is,” Stitt said. “Don’t have his phone number. Never talked to him about the deal.”

Stitt said he only learned of the Tourism and Recreation Department’s deal with Swadley’s last summer.

“When we took our traveling cabinet meeting down to Quartz Mountain and I ate at the restaurant there,” Stitt said.

A Stitt spokesman later confirmed July 14, 2021, as the date of that visit.

Read the Tourism Department letter to Swadley’s

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