OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – It’s been almost a year since the Foggy Bottom Kitchen scandal began, and officials are moving forward with new plans for state park restaurants.

Foggy Bottoms scandal

Officials say Swadley’s Bar-B-Q entered into an exclusive contract in March 2020 with the Oklahoma State Department of Tourism and Recreation to provide restaurants at five state parks.

In 2021, two additional state parks were added to the contract and one was removed.

In April of 2022, the state canceled its contract with Swadley’s after allegations of fraudulent activity and improper bidding practices came to light.

Then-Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater sent a letter to State Auditor Cindy Byrd, calling for an investigation into the contract.

 “The alleged conduct has resulted in at least $4,500,000. in excessive payments to Swadley’s by the State of Oklahoma. I have concluded that a criminal investigation should be conducted,” the letter read.

Tourism and Recreation Director Jerry Winchester resigned from the agency and the state filed a lawsuit against Swadley’s for breach of contract.

Swadley’s lawsuit

In all, Swadley’s received $16.7 million from the state to renovate and operate the restaurants.

However, it said an independent audit showed that the state still owed the company money.

“Tourism has a balance owed to Swadley’s of $1,176,541 on open and submitted invoices,” read the audit.

The attorney for Swadley’s said the business at a $3 million operating loss in fiscal year 2022, and it did that to help the state fix its parks.

“If they were trying to do some nefarious scheme or get rich quick or some sweetheart deal, no one would be sustaining and continuing to operate at plus $3 million of net operating loss and over $1,000,000 in unpaid invoices with more invoices to come,” said Bryan King.

The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department responded to the audit saying, “The state stopped payment to the vendor when concerns arose regarding billing inconsistencies and in order to assure the protection of taxpayer dollars all payments were immediately stopped.”

Swadley’s filed a countersuit against the state.

It stated that the state’s lawsuit “merely seeks to pass the blame onto Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen for in-state political bickering and sensationalism.”

The suit added that “the state will happily throw its private business partners under the bus at the slightest hint of negative political sensationalism and rhetoric.”

New restaurant deal

On Wednesday, the Oklahoma Department of Tourism announced that it had found a vendor to take over state parks contracts.

In all, the agency received proposals from seven different companies.

Shelley Zumwalt, executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation, said the board chose La Ratatouille, LLC to operate all six restaurants.

The group operates restaurants like Falcone’s Pizzeria, Jonny Cakes Bakery, along with multiple food trucks. The company’s catering business has also served the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Zoo Amphitheater.

“We are excited to partner with OTRD to provide restaurant services inside of six parks across the state,” said La Ratatouille Owner & Operator J.P. Wilson. “The current facilities at these parks are top notch, and we are honored to be trusted with the responsibility of bringing a first-class dining experience to Oklahomans and park visitors from across the country.”

Zumwalt says the restaurants hope to open by Memorial Day.

The restaurants will operate in existing facilities at:

  • Lake Murray State Park in Ardmore
  • Quartz Mountain State Park in Lone Wolf
  • Robbers Cave State Park in Wilburton
  • Roman Nose State Park in Watonga
  • Sequoyah State Park in Hulbert
  • Beavers Bend State Park in Broken Bow.