Ex-employees of Kappo Masa filed a lawsuit against the Upper East Side omakase restaurant owned by chef Masa Takayama — of $1,000 per person Masa — and famous art dealer Larry Gagosian this week. The class action is alleging “that the restaurant violated New York law by withholding tips that should have been paid to the waitstaff, and also that it retaliated against the named plaintiff for telling the company about the tip theft.”
The partners are among the biggest power players in their respective fields in New York and beyond: Takayama owns one of the most acclaimed and expensive sushi restaurants in the city, located in Time Warner Center, in Columbus Circle. Gagosian is one of the world’s preeminent art dealers, and the restaurant Kappo Masa is adjacent to his Madison Avenue namesake gallery, Gagosian.
“We allege that this restaurant underpaid its employees by 12 percent, which can add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars per day over the last six years,” said Orin Kurtz of Gardy & Notis, the firm that represents the plaintiff, in a statement to Eater. The plaintiff is also represented by Daniel Kovel of Kovel Law PLLC.
“We have just been made aware of the suit and intend to vigorously contest the allegations. We firmly believe that the restaurant has been in full compliance with all state and federal wage and hour laws. While we respect the rights of our current and former employees to raise issues of concern whether in a court of law or otherwise, these claims lack merit,” Carolyn D. Richmond, legal counsel for Kappo Masa, from the firm Fox Rothschild LLP, said in a statement to Eater.
According to the suit, the plaintiff claims the restaurant’s image as a premier location of luxury allegedly did not match the behind-the-scenes experience for some of its employees. New York Times critic Pete Wells wrote in his 2015 one-star review of Kappo Masa that, “the cost of eating at Kappo Masa is so brutally, illogically, relentlessly high, and so out of proportion to any pleasure you may get, that large numbers start to seem like uninvited and poorly behaved guests at the table.”
According to the Kappo Masa website, Takayama and Gagosian formed a friendship more than 30 years back, before collaborating on the venture as “a realization of their desire to collaborate creatively and to offer a sophisticated dining experience with a contemporary perspective on traditional Japanese ingredients and materials.” The website currently lists two $350 per person experiences at the restaurant.
Eater has reached out to Gagosian’s team for a statement regarding the suit but did not hear back at the time of publication.
Update: September 21, 2023, 4:48 p.m.: This article was updated to include a statement from an attorney for the plaintiff.