One of the subcontractors hired by Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen to renovate state park restaurants in 2021 was simultaneously in the process of completing construction on the home of a Swadley family member, according to state and county records.
Between August 2020 and April 2021, Premier Custom Homes built the house of Koltan Swadley, son of Swadley’s BBQ owner Brent Swadley. The 2,000-square-foot ranch-style home in Edmond is valued at $297,000, according to tax records.
Premier Custom Homes was also among the Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen subcontractors mentioned by Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency executive director Mike Jackson during the House Special Investigative Committee’s first meeting May 12. The committee is looking into the controversial and now-terminated contract between the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department and Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen LLC. Prior to the cancellation of the contract — which included a Tourism Department agreement to cover operating losses — the state paid Swadley’s $16.7 million.
‘Using local labor and local vendors’
According to a press release printed by the Journal Record in June 2021, Koltan Swadley serves as the “executive chef” of his family’s restaurant business. He was also active in the development of the Foggy Bottom Kitchen concept.
Brent Swadley told the Southwest Ledger last year that Koltan and his brother, Keaton, were responsible for developing the menu at Foggy Bottom restaurants.
“All of the recipes are coming from them,” Brent Swadley told the paper.
In the same interview, Brent Swadley talked about hiring people to help build the Foggy Bottom locations and the level of detail that went into their décor.
“We’re hiring and using local labor and local vendors,” Swadley told the paper. “We also use local suppliers, which helps immensely in finding what we need because the pandemic hurt the supply chain a lot. So, they’re our best resource in finding materials. At Quartz Mountain, we have special unique wood that we use, and it takes longer to get that. We’ve also got a waterfall made of granite, so there’s something unique to this location.”
Under his company’s contract with the state, Brent Swadley served as general contractor for construction and labor, as well as operation of the restaurants inside six Oklahoma state parks. That arrangement allowed him to hire subcontractors, including Premier Custom Homes, which billed Swadley’s for completed work. Swadley’s then billed the state for reimbursement.
On May 12, Jackson told the special legislative committee that some of the invoices Premiere Custom Homes submitted to Swadley’s — as well as Swadley’s subsequent reimbursement invoices to the state — raised red flags.
“We did a case study on one vendor, Premier Custom Homes,” Jackson told legislators. “They had a $20,000 fee they charged on $53,000 in work. Once they did that, Swadley’s billed the OTRD for the $73,000 and then charged the consulting management fees.”
Jackson said those consulting and management fees charged to the state by Swadley’s in August 2021 were for an additional 30 percent of total costs, meaning Swadley’s calculated its 30 percent based off a total that included Premiere Custom Homes’ own $20,000 vendor fee.
Jackson said Swadley’s most frequently used subcontractor was Quality Food Equipment. Swadley’s requested state reimbursement for at least $2.6 million of expenses billed to them by Quality Food Equipment, including $11,500 spent for a cheese melting machine. Jackson also referenced what appeared to be overpriced tile installed in a casual dining venue.
“In this case, it was for $100 a square foot in one of the facilities, and that did catch our attention,” Jackson told the committee.
Premier Custom Homes shut down after its owner, Mark Abel, died in December 2021. The company’s website no longer exists, and its Google listing includes a “permanently closed” note. Its offices in Edmond are also closed.
Past versions of the Premier Custom Homes website can be reviewed on archive.org. The site featured a letter from Abel on its homepage:
WE provide you 100% transparency when building your TRUE custom home. Our process allows us to just charge a FLAT FEE based on the size of your home, gives you the benefit of receiving our incredible pricing when it comes to material and labor, which then is passed on to you – our VALUED customer. This is YOUR custom dream home, therefore, we do not pre-package items such as appliances and flooring. Because we are not a cost plus, we can pass those savings onto you.
The Premier Custom Homes website’s “about” page also references being “affordable.”
“We have a talented team here and they all understand how important customer service is,” the page read. “The beauty of our services is with our pricing per square foot; it is NOT in our best interest for you to go over budget.”
In an April interview with NonDoc, Brent Swadley said his company has managed subcontractors “a bunch” during his career.
“Twenty-five years we’ve been doing that,” Swadley said before referencing the management and consultant fees specifically. “That’s just standard stuff. We charge for our services.”
Swadley said he was not worried about the criminal investigation into his company’s contract to operate state park restaurants.
“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.”
‘A can of worms for somebody just to enrich their friends’
House Special Investigative Committee Chairman Ryan Martinez (R-Edmond) told NonDoc he was not aware Premier Custom Homes had built the home of a Swadley’s family member. He said the company’s role as a subcontractor highlights several problems with Brent Swadley’s company acting as general contractor.
“That’s the thing that really concerns me about that is you give a big chunk of money to a restaurateur, and then it’s pretty clear they lost control, lost sight of where it went,” Martinez said. “And all of the sudden it’s his purview to decide what contractor is doing what and how money gets paid. From anything that I’ve seen, there wasn’t a true RFP process for subcontractors. I think they’re opening up a can of worms for somebody just to enrich their friends who happen to be subcontractors and make those deals. To me, that’s really worrisome, and it’s really hard to keep track of those dollars.”
Martinez said he has heard from other subcontractors involved in the construction of Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen locations.
“I’ve had some whistleblowers who are subcontractors reach out to me who had some concerns about the way things were done,” Martinez said. “Even they thought there were some things being done that were not normal. People who had been in that business and who had been subcontractors elsewhere kind of thought, ‘Hold on a minute, something’s not right,’ so I absolutely think those conversations will continue. Some of those subcontractors want to remain anonymous because they’re scared, and I get it.”
It’s unclear when Martinez’s investigative committee will hold its next meeting. Meanwhile, a criminal investigation into Swadley’s reimbursement invoices and how former state officials awarded the company the contract is ongoing.