Earlier this week, Scott Conant's company Scarpetta Inc. filed a lawsuit against a group of the chef's business partners for breach of contract and conversion. It's a long and complicated story, full of many restaurants, operators, twists, and turns. But here's the shorthand:
In 2008, Conant opened Scarpetta with his lone partner at the time, Curt Huegel. The two men formed the SCM group together, and around the same time, a company called Red One was also formed by Huegel and Scarpetta investors Jonathan Meadow and Richard Weisfisch. This group was created to handle the administrative side of Scarpetta, although the suit argues that this is just an "empty shell," with no real office. SCM's operating agreement states: "Red One shall offer [SCM] the opportunity to pursue, within a reasonable period of time...any opportunity with respect to any restaurant with a wait staff which Red One intends to pursue..."
Red One sprouted an "alter ego" company by the name of LDV, which went on to develop and manage a string of restaurants in New York, Atlantic City, and Miami that had nothing to do with Conant.
Over the last five years, LDV opened the Veritas revamp, La Promenade Des Anglais (later renamed Bistro La Promenade), American Cut, Lugo, Azure by Allegretti, Bar Tanaka, Vesper, and Lucy's Cantina Royale, to name a few. (Check out LDV's official site for its list of restaurants). Conant's camp alleges that he was not a part of the creation of these establishments, and that he was essentially cut out of these deals. Also, according to the suit, LDV suggested in various press releases and pieces of promotional material that it was the force behind Scarpetta.
Lucy's Miami, Bar Tanaka, and Vesper all closed when the Shelborne Hotel in Miami terminated its contract with LDV, and now Conant's team claims that the closures were damaging to his name and his brand. Many of LDV's restaurants also opened in close proximity to Conant's establishments, and according to the suit, these openings violated the parties' operating agreement. Additionally, the suit alleges that Red One failed to reimburse the Scarpetta restaurants' owners for paying their crews. Courthouse News Service estimates that SCM is seeking upwards of $23 million in damages.
Eater reached out to Conant's lawyer David C. Berg about the suit. His statement: "Our client's claims as set forth in the complaint speak for themselves and we look forward to having them heard in court. Otherwise, we have no comments at this juncture of the litigation."
UPDATE, 6:30 p.m.: Red One Holding LLC, which now bills itself as "a subsidiary of LDV Hospitality Holdings LLC," issued the following response to the suit:
We are disappointed by Scott's meritless allegations. When we first met Scott, he didn't have a job, but we believed in him and offered him an opportunity to partner together. Despite Scott's misrepresentations as to his ownership of the Scarpetta restaurants, we are very proud of the brand that has been created. Unfortunately, it appears that we are the latest victim of Scott deciding, once again, to engage in litigation with his business partners. We have handed this matter over to our attorneys instructing them to vigorously refute these claims and to explore all of our legal options, including potential claims against Scott. Now, we will allow them to do their job, while we continue to focus on ours.
For those that care about the nitty-gritty details, here's a PDF of the full, 75-page suit: