Brendan Joel Kelley-Hellenthal was fired Monday from his job as editor of the weekly Anchorage Press. Kelley-Hellenthal said that he was fired over a restaurant review of the Slippery Salmon Bar and Grill which the publisher, Steve Abeln, took off the Press's website Saturday morning following complaints by the restaurant’s staff.
Abeln didn't return a phone call requesting comment. Kelley-Hellenthal had been the paper's editor since August 2010.
The Slippery Salmon, attached to the Ramada Inn on 3rdAve., has been open for 12 days shy of three months. The paper's general guideline is to hold off on reviewing a restaurant until that three-month mark. According to Kelley-Hellenthal, an employee of the restaurant learned of the guideline and complained to the Press. Abeln took down the review Saturday. That prompted screaming matches between Kelley-Hellenthal and Abeln on Saturday, Kelley-Hellenthal said.
"Don't yank it," Kelly-Hellenthal told Abeln. "Put a little note on it instead that we'll revisit the restaurant in six months. As the editor, it's my name that's on the site."
Taking the review off the webpage was "unethical," Kelley-Hellenthal said.
The Anchorage Press is owned by Wick Communications Co., an Arizona-based newspaper chain with 28 papers across the country. The chain also owns the Mat-Su Frontiersman. It bought the Press from Anchorage resident Nick Coltman and his wife Maggie Balean in 2006. (Full disclosure: both this writer and the Alaska Dispatch's editor are former Press writers).
Kelley-Hellenthal had requested a conference call on Monday with the higher-ups at Wick, including the person in charge of the Alaska papers, which is part of a group Wick calls "Team Titanium." Instead of the conference call, he got an envelope outlining the terms of his firing, terms that, he said, did not include severance pay.
The review in question is still in the print edition of the paper. It's pretty mild compared to some Press reviews. It does mention a bad sandwich -- the remains of which neither the reviewers son nor dog would go near -- as well as an unseemly item in the restaurant's parking lot.
But Susy Buchanan, the reviewer, really liked the smoked salmon pizza, the service and the overall vibe. She said the place has "potential," suggesting that if it gets things "straightened out," it "could be a great addition to downtown."
Contact Amanda Coyne at amanda(at)alaskadispatch.com