House Committee Issues Subpoenas In Swadley’s Investigation As Tourism Dept. Searches For Restaurant Replacement

Friday, May 6th 2022, 11:12 pm


A special investigative House committee issued its first subpoenas in its inquiry into the circumstances behind a lucrative restaurant deal between the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department and Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen. 

The committee commanded Gino DeMarco, former tourism deputy director, and Steven Harpe, director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, to appear at a hearing next Thursday.

The OTRD abruptly ordered Swadley’s to abandon its six restaurants at state park lodges last week amid criticism of the profitable contract awarded to the barbecue restaurant chain as well as allegations that Swadley’s overcharged the state millions of dollars for facility renovations. 

“Where our role is-- is to see what structural problems exist within that agency,” Rep. Ryan Martinez, chair of the special committee, said on The Hot Seat with Scott Mitchell Friday morning. 

Last week, Gov. Stitt announced the resignation of tourism director Jerry Winchester. The same day, the state also filed a lawsuit against Swadley’s alleging a breach of contract. 

Lieutenant governor Matt Pinnell, a previous supporter of the Swadley’s FBK contract who previously appeared in their commercials, called on the power structure of the Tourism Department to change Friday.  

In a statement, Pinnell’s office said he “is encouraging the Legislature” to pass a bill that would return authority to approve budgets and contracts from the Tourism Director to the Tourism Commission. The governor-appointed director position was given the authority in 2018. 

The OTRD also opened bidding for a business to replace Swadley’s as the operator of state park restaurants. Operating costs would not be covered by the state, according to the RFP packet, a change from the contract with Swadley’s. 

“I am looking forward to getting our restaurants back open soon and working with our Legislature to continue carrying out Governor Stitt’s vision of making Oklahoma a Top Ten state for tourism,” Pinnell said in the statement. 

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is conducting a criminal investigation into the Tourism Department’s multi-million dollar deal with Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen. The company renovated six state park properties and opened its restaurants in each since the contract began in March 2020. 

By December 2021, the state had paid Swadley’s $16.7 million for operational costs, management fees, and reimbursements for facility improvements. One lawmaker called the deal “unusual” during a legislative committee hearing in March. 

Swadley’s has denied any wrongdoing and has said in company statements that renovations across the six state parks were extensive and expensive due to international supply chain constraints. 

According to records obtained by News 9, the OTRD has not paid Swadley’s more than $1 million in invoices for monthly management fees and construction.