Beau Monde-Tavern on the Green deal under scrutiny

Beau Monde co-owner Jim Caiola on Sunday labeled "untrue" an allegation that family ties - and not merit - cinched the deal that put him and partner David Salama in line to run Tavern on the Green, the Central Park landmark owned by the City of New York.

The New York Post on Saturday reported that Caiola's sister is married to Kevin Sheekey, a former deputy mayor of New York. City officials told the Post that the entire process was handled by the book and that Caiola had no reason to divulge his family ties. On Sunday, The Post also reported that New York's comptroller was investigating.

"He and I had zero contact about this," Caiola told me Sunday. "We don't talk about my business or his business, anyway." Once the deal became close, Caiola said, "we had a feeling [the connection] would come up."

Caiola attributed the complaints to the fact that out-of-towners had cinched the 20-year contract. "It's like when I was an actor in New York," he said. "You study with Lee Strasberg, you live in the city, you take the subway, you audition - and someone from Ohio gets the role."

It was nearly 30 years ago when Caiola was exposed to Tavern on the Green in its heyday when Drew Nieporent ran it.  "That was what inspired me to be a restaurateur," Caiola told me.

The Post said the New York Parks Department gave up the scoring sheets showing that Caiola and Salama's group had beaten out two rivals, Upsilon Ventures and the combination of City Winery restaurant/Great Performances caterers. Out of 100 possible total points in five categories, the Post reported, Emerald emerged with 81.96; City Winery/Great Performances 72.26 and Upsilon 70.75.

Caiola said he and Salama explored the potential of leasing Tavern on the Green four years ago, but the terms were unfavorable. The city later agreed to pay $9.8 million for renovations, which would result in a smaller restaurant with an outdoor component and bar.

The partners must sign a final contract with a union and won't get the keys till July 2013. The projected opening is October or November 2013, Caiola said.