Tripleta, a hot new pop-up backed by a star chef, opened on December 10 with a meaty menu of Puerto Rican tripleta sandwiches. But less than a week later, Eater SF received word that the triple-stuffed dream had shuttered, at least temporarily. Tripleta has remained dark for the past few weeks, although at the time of writing, a note on the website promises, “We will keep you posted when we plan to reopen.” Unfortunately, it’s not clear who will be in the kitchen: The original partnership seems to have dissolved, as founders and brothers José and Juan Rigau say they were kicked out of their own pop-up by chef Aaron London, in whose restaurant they were cooking.
José Rigau was the general manager for Al’s Deli, the fast-casual spinoff from Michelin-starred Al’s Place, which shuttered after less than a year. In an interview with Eater SF prior to Tripleta’s opening, he said that he and his brother Juan Rigau, a chef who’s worked at fine dining venues like Spruce and Sons & Daughters, developed the concept and menu for the pop-up, drawing from recipes passed down within their family. It’s an idea they’d had for a while: the Rigaus grew up in San Juan, and have long hoped to eventually open an affordable Puerto Rican restaurant in San Francisco. With Al’s Deli closed, but London still on the lease, this pop-up seemed like a great way to start.
The Rigau brothers say that their partnership was initially based on a verbal agreement with London, who said that the three of them would be partners, each with a percentage ownership in Tripleta. As time went on, they say, London kept changing that percentage, and was slow to deliver a written agreement. That final contract, they say, only arrived a few days before Tripleta opened on December 10 — and it didn’t reflect the ownership arrangement they’d initially agreed to.
According to the Rigaus, when they attempted to reach a compromise regarding the partnership, London instead locked them out of a shared Google drive account containing their recipes, and brought a sous chef and line cook from Al’s Place (which is temporarily closed) into the kitchen. Then he verbally suspended their partnership and kicked them off the premises, the Rigaus say. At that time, José commented, “he’s trying to pressure us to sign the contract, but we’re not going to do that.”
London tells Eater SF that the Rigaus’ descriptions of the agreements and the Google drive access are “firmly and factually incorrect ... blatantly incorrect,” but declined to comment any further. “I do have a lot to say, that is honest and from the heart ... ” London says. “But due to the sensitive nature of this situation, I just can’t speak any further right now.”
Unlike the Rigaus, London does not have any connection to Puerto Rico. When Eater SF interviewed London before the Tripleta opening, he confirmed that the Rigaus had entered into the partnership with an existing concept and menu, and said he was working closely with them in the kitchen to develop the recipes.
“I brought up the idea with [José], could we adapt Puerto Rican food … could we make some changes and get my style up in there, and also change it to be an online-only concept, a fast-casual concept,” London said in early December. In fact, London said, he’d even asked Juan to line up a tasting, so he could try all of “the really classic Puerto Rican dishes that [Juan] grew up with.” The tasting, London said, “really gave me a nice look into what Puerto Rican food is in its most traditional sense. Then I was able to take inspiration from that, and write out a menu that I think really honors it, but also is food that I think is exciting and fun, and that I want to cook, and that I think people in San Francisco will like.”
When interviewed in early December, London said that that Tripleta was collaborative endeavor. “I think it was a really good process, to be able to get my hands into the technical process of the recipe writing, and also the creativity of it, and to have basically a sounding board in Juan and José,” London said. “I would bring something to them and be like, ‘Cool, hey, I made this dish! Does this taste Puerto Rican?’” According to London, as they developed Tripleta, he was “able to to bring [dishes] to them and be like, ‘I don’t know, I haven’t been there.’”
But the Rigaus maintain that Tripleta was always based on their concept, menu, and recipes. “These are our family recipes,” José said, expressing shock that London would try to claim their Puerto Rican dishes as his own intellectual property. “These are my brother’s recipes.”
It’s a situation that might remind some of Daniel Patterson, another notable San Francisco chef who in 2019 made headline after headline as his partnerships with up-and-coming chefs of color all dissolved. Heena Patel of Besharam, Reem Assil of Dyafa, and Nigel Jones of Kaya all severed ties, ending with some accusations of tokenism, and at least one lawsuit. It also recalls the sudden ouster of the founding chefs of Noosh, where rising star chefs Laura and Sayat Ozyilmaz were abruptly fired and locked out of their restaurant by their business partner.
Of those shattered relationships, Besharam remains in business, with Patel operating the spot without Patterson aboard. Noosh is also open, though who’s running the kitchen isn’t immediately apparent. It’s unclear what will happen with Tripleta, which was expected to run at least through December, and hopefully beyond. As of publication time, the Tripleta website appears to be live, and according to London, Tripleta will eventually reopen, but would not say who would be preparing the Puerto Rican dishes.