TULSA — Following the termination of Swadley’s Foggy Bottoms Kitchen contracts with the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, assistant state fire marshal James Fullingim said only three of the six state park restaurant facilities are code compliant at Friday’s State Fire Marshal Commission meeting.
The commission met on Tulsa Technology Center’s campus on Memorial Drive to hear multiple reports from across the agency.
Fullingim told the commission that restaurant facilities at Sequoyah, Robbers Cave and Quartz Mountain state parks were all code compliant. However, the restaurants in Beavers Bend, Roman Nose and Lake Murray state parks were still shy of their final inspections.
“They’re all down to alarms, sprinklers and hood systems. Some of the work has actually been done for final inspection,” Fullingim said in his report to the commission. “You can’t do a final inspection on a sprinkler with a hood until the alarm is complete so two of them [only] lack an alarm system. (…) There’s nothing out there that’s inherently unsafe.”
State Fire Marshal Keith Bryant said all the restaurants were in various stages of the compliance process.
None of the restaurants are currently open following OTRD’s termination of Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen’s lease concession agreement on April 25. OTRD terminated the contract due to “suspected fraudulent activity and questionable business practices.” A criminal investigation is also underway into how OTRD awarded the contract to Swadley’s and whether the company and its founder — Brent Swadley — stole money from the state by inflating invoices.
An August 2020 report from SFMO found none of Swadley’s six restaurant locations had received the required building permits for code compliance. The report said the Roman Nose state park location had multiple code violations and “life safety issues.” Swadley’s restaurants had not even started the permit process.
Fullingim predicted the restaurant facilities could be code compliant by the end of May. He said he met with OTRD’s capital projects team earlier this month to outline the process to become code compliant.
“They’re having to serve in the role of a contractor, which is unfamiliar grounds for the people that manage projects. We went through and gave them all numbers they will need to call and names of people they will need to contact to finish up these projects,” he told the commission.
In his report, Fullingim said the state park restaurants would drop the “Foggy Bottom Kitchen” monicker. The State Fire Marshal’s Office changed the restaurant names on any required documents to make it easier for OTRD’s new competitive bidding process to operate the restaurants.
The restaurant facilities will all be code compliant for new vendors before the vendors operate. If vendors choose to make changes to the facilities Fullingim said SFMO explained the process to submit a plan before occupying the buildings.
Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell announced new requests for proposals for the state park restaurant concession contracts on Friday, May 6. Pinnell has served as Gov. Kevin Stitt’s cabinet secretary of tourism, wildlife and heritage.
“The transition is underway at Tourism, and we’re committed to protecting the taxpayers at every turn,” Pinnell said in a press release.
The new requests for proposals for state park restaurant concession contracts will remain open until at least Friday, May 20.
Fire marshal: Brent Swadley knew the rules
At his commission’s meeting Friday, Bryant commissioners he was proud of how the agency handled the situation.
“I’m proud because some of this predates me being in this position,” said Bryant, who was appointed by the commission in 2021. “I’m proud and pleased with the actions and behaviors of our agents and the previous fire marshal. Doesn’t mean we’re done with it yet. We still have some issues with these restaurants since they’re currently and temporarily closed.”
After the meeting, Bryant told NonDoc that Brent Swadley should have known the proper permit process.
“[Swadley has] built enough restaurants around the state to be familiar with and know that there is a permitting process regardless of where you’re at in the state,” Bryant said. “I would hate to speculate to why he thought he could just start those projects without going through the proper way.”
In a 2018 speech, Swadley bragged about not following legal requirements for his business.
“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.”
Bryant said his office maintains a “pro-business, pro-economic development stance” and works with businesses in the compliance process. He also said ORTD deserved some credit in the process.
“I’m trying to give OTRD some credit in this because, along the way, the operator of those facilities was getting out there on his own and doing some things that they probably weren’t even aware of to get the restaurants redone. [Swadley] was jumping the gun on the permit process and submitting plans,” Bryant said.
Commission member Cecil Clay, who represents the Association of Electrical Workers, echoed that sentiment in the meeting.
“Our agency is proven to be what it’s always been — above the board and doing the job of public safety,” Clay said.