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Back where he started

With the Beehive behind him, Darryl Settles returns to the spot where he built his reputation

Darryl Settles at his Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen, the latest restaurant at the site of Settles’s first, Bob the Chef’s. Darryl Settles at his Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen, the latest restaurant at the site of Settles’s first, Bob the Chef’s. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
By Jialu Chen
Globe Correspondent / July 26, 2011

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"There are about 200 people that run the whole city,’’ Darryl Settles says over dinner at his restaurant, Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen. “I know most of them.’’

He points to a man sitting in the back corner. “This guy right here, he’s William Rondo. You know Rondo of the Celtics. That’s his brother. He’s having a business meeting over there.’’ When the meeting ends, Rondo comes over to shake Settles’s hand.

Later, while bar-hopping around Back Bay, Settles, 50, who is incurably social, introduces himself to two people, prompting a stranger to turn around and ask, “Are you Darryl of Darryl’s?’’ Settles beams.

But there is one person Settles is not pleased to see. At the end of the night, he runs into Bertil Jean-Chronberg, general manager of the Beehive, a restaurant Settles used to co-own. Jean-Chronberg offers his hand. Settles turns sharply to the left, ignoring the gesture.

The encounter underscores what Settles has been through the past few years.

Shortly after the Beehive opened in 2007, legal battles erupted that were only recently resolved. To Settles, the Beehive represents a force that both nudged him to sell his popular restaurant, Bob the Chef’s, and drove him to open another, Darryl’s, in the same location three years later.

With two partners, Jack Bardy and Bill Keravuori, Settles opened the Beehive as a restaurant with live jazz, a nightspot that catered to a mature audience. It quickly became a South End hot spot, but disagreements arose, and Settles sued his partners. “I became dissatisfied with the Beehive’s management, particularly the inconsistent and non-transparency of the financial reporting that was provided to the owners/partners,’’ he wrote in an e-mail. The two parties underwent a binding mediation process, and a settlement was reached in November, with both sides signing confidentiality agreements. Because of the agreement, Settles says he can’t elaborate about what went wrong.

All parties agree that Settles is no longer affiliated in any capacity with the Beehive. They disagree on just about everything else.

Settles says the Beehive was his idea. He says he approached the other partners with the idea of opening a jazz cafe catering to a mature clientele at what is now the Beehive’s location.

Bardy says it is “absolutely not true’’ that Settles approached him with the idea. He says all the partners arrived at similar ideas independently. As for Settles’s role in the Beehive, Bardy says, “I was always the operator. Darryl never had a role in any of it. The Beehive wasn’t his name, his concept, or his menu.’’

Told over the phone of Bardy’s statement, Settles is silent for a minute. Then he says, “This is exactly why the partnership was dissolved.’’

Starting with a landmark Settles entered the restaurant business in 1990, when he purchased Bob the Chef’s, a restaurant often referred to as “an icon,’’ “a landmark,’’ and “a South End institution’’ at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Northhampton Street. Back then, he was a sales and marketing executive at Digital Equipment Corp. who imagined that he would just “come in on Fridays and pick up my money.’’

At the time, he was looking for a side investment, and Bob the Chef’s, which was sold through bankruptcy proceedings, seemed like a good deal. Settles paid $125,000 for the restaurant and all its recipes.

Eventually, Settles turned Bob the Chef’s into a successful, profitable business. During the 17 years he owned the restaurant, Settles renovated it twice, changed the name to Bob’s Southern Bistro, and added live jazz.

His restaurant became so popular that it attracted a number of celebrities. According to Settles, actor Forest Whitaker took his wife to Bob the Chef’s on their first date, during the filming of “Blown Away’’ in 1993. He says the members of New Kids on the Block dined in the back corner of Bob’s three or four times a week for five years. And he remembers the time singer Natalie Cole’s limo pulled up in 1995 and she stepped inside to order a chicken and rib combo before a flight. “She joked on the way out that she was going to ‘smell up’ the plane and that she was not planning to share,’’ he says.

A busy man moves on Settles sold Bob the Chef’s in 2007 but retained ownership of the building. His reasons for parting with a restaurant he had owned for so long were numerous. They included the imminent arrival of his second child, increasing time spent on the Beehive, and numerous other commitments. Although he is known best as a restaurateur, Settles is also a co-founder of WiSe Urban Development, a real estate development company for affordable housing, and is in the process of opening a boutique hotel in Back Bay. Additionally, his civic activities range from the BeanTown Jazz Festival, which he founded, to the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.

Malcolm Aalders purchased Bob’s from Settles and transformed it into Circle Plates and Lounge, an upscale French bistro. After less than six weeks in business, he closed Circle and sold it to Ziad Chamoun, who opened The Stork Club in its place. The Stork Club, which offered an eclectic menu of French, Southern, and Asian cuisine, lasted 10 months. At that point, Settles decided to take the location back under his wing and opened Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen.

“Every day I would hear, ‘We need it back, we need it back.’ I knew it was a safe move. I knew I would have a following,’’ Settles says.

Darryl’s is not merely a carbon copy of Bob’s. While Darryl’s serves Bob’s famous “glorifried’’ chicken, collard greens, and candied yams, Settles has added fancier fare, such as Atlantic haddock, stuffed chicken, and red velvet cake.

Still, Settles’s feelings toward his old location is one of continuity rather than change.

“I’ve always enjoyed the South End and Lower Roxbury,’’ he says. “I didn’t feel like I left the community when I sold the restaurant in 2007, because I still owned properties there. I still enjoy the community. It’s one of the most diverse communities in the city. I’m happy to be back there with old friends.’’

Jialu Chen can be reached at jchen@globe.com.

BY JIALU CHEN / GLOBE CORRESPONDENT