One of the most high-profile restaurant openings in the Hamptons this summer has been a conflict-addled mess — and now, the tension is heating up, with legal threats flying back and forth.
New York chef Terrance Brennan, behind now-closed Michelin star restaurant Picholine, and East End restaurateur Zach Erdem opened Blu Mar together in May, a Southampton seafood restaurant in the style of Estiatorio Milos. But it opened without its liquor license, and some customers balked at the prices, like a $90-per-person price tag on wild-caught fish. After a slow June, Erdem says he could not pay Brennan in full.
Last week, Brennan’s attorney issued a letter to Erdem citing a breach of agreement on several counts, including not paying fees, violating wage and liquor laws, and not complying with building codes — all of which impact “the standards of Terrance Brennan and his brand,” the letter says. The note gave Erdem until the end of business on July 2 to resolve the matter with a cash payment of $50,000, just under 50 percent of the total amount owed, or he’d sue Erdem. Now that the weekend has passed, Brennan says he will be speaking with his lawyer today to determine next steps.
The development follows weeks of clashing over equipment costs, staff, and even male strippers from a bachelorette party one night at Erdem’s next-door club, with Brennan leaving the restaurant in June.
“If he wants to sue me, I will go hard on him,’’ Erdem says. “I will get my attorneys to take action and sue him for damages. I don’t have the money because I lost money from this.”
The restaurateur maintains that Brennan was “greedy,” eating seven-course meals and drinking expensive wines at lunch and dinner at Erdem’s other restaurant 75 Main, submitting bills for high-end dining in New York, and insisting that a Hamptons gym membership be covered. He also says the chef ran up bills for new equipment and was “difficult to work with.”
“I was having a heart attack,” Erdem says. “He is a genius, but people in the Hamptons didn’t appreciate him. He saw it wasn’t doing well so he chose to run away.”
Brennan counters that Erdem approved every expense, and that dining at other restaurants was accepted research. He also says he’s “focused and direct,” not difficult. “I was just a consultant,’’ he says. “He knows the Hamptons market, he wanted Milos, and that’s what I gave him.”
As for accusations of drinking, Brennan believes it’s a ploy, noting that he often worked 16-hour days. “He is saying that because he thinks it will give him cause to get out of our contract,’’ he says. “I get up at 5 a.m., meditate, drink green tea and work out. I have a glass of wine with dinner, but certainly didn’t order bottles during lunch, and as for seven courses, there aren’t seven things I would want to eat on his [75 Main] menu.’’
The pair was a bit mismatched from the start: Brennan gained acclaim for high-end Lincoln Center restaurant Picholine, which closed in 2015, while Erdem’s better known for running the Southampton late night club AM, as well as the town’s casual year-round restaurant 75 Main.
But there is some good news for Erdem and Brennan. Now that it’s July, business has picked up at Blu Mar — fish by the pound has been taken off the menu, and whole fish now sells for $55 to $65 — and Brennan has landed a stint at the Chef’s Club, starting July 10th and going through September 28th.