Vegan celebrity chef Chloe Coscarelli wants to reclaim her name from fast-casual hit By Chloe. In a 129-page lawsuit filed in California, Coscarelli is asking for damages from By Chloe’s parent company ESquared Hospitality after it ousted her last year but kept using her name for massive expansions — claiming that ESquared’s CEO Jimmy Haber started to push her out after she rejected his “advances.”
Coscarelli and ESquared, including Haber’s daughter Samantha Wasser, opened the first photo-friendly By Chloe in 2015, burgeoned in part by the chef’s cred as the first vegan to win a TV cooking competition show. But following its success, Coscarelli alleges that Haber quickly became “infatuated with Chloe” and started “a jealous and threatening campaign” to take over Coscarelli’s personal brand, the suit says.
In 2016, Coscarelli alleges that Haber “became furious” after she rejected his “advances” and his requests to license her name for mass produced food, the suit says. The CEO — whose company also owns business-casual restaurants like BLT Steak and BLT Prime — then allegedly sent “threatening messages to Chloe and her family,” asking that Coscarelli meet with him privately to “share private feelings he said he had toward Chloe and about their relationship,” according to the complaint. “Spurned again, and reeling from rejection, Haber used ESquared to seize control,” the suit alleges.
Following a legal battle and arbitration process, the chef and the business split, and Coscarelli is no longer part of the company.
Beyond claiming that she has legal right to the word “Chloe” as it relates to the business, Coscarelli alleges in the suit that the restaurants have declined in quality since she’s left. The restaurants have “cut costs and sacrificed quality to increase profits,” the suit says, damaging Coscarelli’s reputation since her name is still attached, she alleges.
The chef is suing ESquared and By Chloe on 14 different counts, including violation of right of publicity, trademark infringement, copyright infringement, and false suggestion of association. In a statement, Haber pointed to a “binding legal decision” in September 2017 “by the New York Supreme Court detailing Coscarelli’s ‘gross negligence.’” Haber said the company is “disappointed by these public accusations from a disgruntled former partner” and that it’s simply a smear campaign “to undermine the company and hurt its loyal employees.” He did not specifically deny any allegations of misconduct.
It’s been a messy couple years for the chef and ESquared. In 2016, Coscarelli sued the company and claimed that Haber was pushing her to open non-vegan restaurants with her name. Shortly after, the two started an arbitration process that led to a business split — one that ESquared said happened only after Coscarelli demonstrated “gross negligence.” The company also denied that they ever planned to open non-vegan By Chloe restaurants.
The restaurants kept her name and rapidly expanded. Now, 10 locations of the vegan restaurant exist across the country, and last week, it announced a $31 million investment that would lead to 20 more outposts globally, led by Wasser.
It’s not the first time ESquared has faced a chef lawsuit. The company’s BLT restaurants were founded by chef Laurent Tourondel, but they split in 2010. Tourondel later won a legal battle to use his own name for businesses, and ESquared still runs BLT-branded restaurants as part of a licensing deal, where the chef receives royalties.
Update: September 23, 2017, 11:08 a.m.
This article was updated to include comments from Jimmy Haber.