A rising star chef from Philly was supposed to man some of New York’s biggest Italian restaurants, but more than two years and two restaurants later, chef Adam Leonti is once again out of the kitchen, this time at Soho restaurant Sessanta.
Leonti — formerly at acclaimed Philadelphia restaurant Vetri — originally arrived in New York in spring 2015 to helm Harvey at the Williamsburg Hotel, and earlier this year, he left the yet-to-open restaurant for Sessanta, prolific restaurateur John McDonald’s hip project in the Sixty Soho hotel.
Now, the Post reports that Leonti has been forced to stop working at that restaurant amidst a nasty non-compete lawsuit between the Williamsburg Hotel and the chef. The developers of the Williamsburg hotel claimed the chef took “trade secrets” with him and was harming the hotel’s brand, according to the Post. Earlier this month, a judge ruled that Leonti could no longer work at Sessanta (or other restaurants) due to his non-compete contract.
Harvey still has yet to open for dinner.
McDonald is reportedly not thrilled about the development. The restaurateur — a heavy-hitter who’s behind restaurants like Lure Fishbar — called Leonti’s departure “a death blow to the business.” The chef was supposed to help pump up buzz for the restaurant, with plans for a fall relaunch.
Update: McDonald says in an email to Eater that Leonti has not technically left the restaurant, only that the judge has ruled the chef can no longer work there. They had plans to launch a new menu that was similar to the tasting menu at Vetri and still want to work with Leonti. “We are standing by him until we can get him back and create something entirely new and exciting,” McDonald writes. The chef will be traveling and plans to return to Sessanta eventually.
Sessanta has always been a stylish place for the downtown crowd to hobnob, but it’s gone through a couple different chefs since it opened in 2015. Hearth vet Jordan Frosolone opened it, and a mixed one-star Times review shortly after noted that diners seemed to be more interested in “braying about your recent adventures” than the food. By spring 2016, Mercer Street Hospitality vet Paul DiBari replaced him.
Leonti came on board in March of this year. McDonald does not yet have a new plan for the restaurant, according to the Post. Eater has reached out to McDonald, the Williamsburg hotel, and Leonti. Stay tuned for more.