‘Chopped’ Chef Turns the Heat Up on Partners

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Celebrity chef and “Chopped” judge Scott Conant wants $23 million from a business partner who allegedly uses Conant’s name to open competing restaurants.
     Scarpetta Inc., a Florida company that hearkens to Conant’s acclaimed fleet of Italian restaurants, filed the derivative action in New York County Supreme Court on behalf of Scott Conant Management.
     Conant’s sole partner in SCM, Curt Huegel, is named as a defendant along with Red One Holding; LDV Hospitality; Jonathan Meadow; Richard Weisfisch; Antonello Paganuzzi and Lucky 13.
     The New York restaurant Scarpetta was SCM’s first endeavor, according to the complaint. It opened with Conant at the helm in 2008 to rave reviews and has since spawned locations in Miami, Beverly Hills and Las Vegas. SCM also opened the DOCG Enoteca wine bar in 2010 at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
     Lucky 13 owns the New York property where the original Scarpetta is located, according to the complaint.
     SCM says Red One was formed alongside it in December 2007 to serve as the administrative vehicle through which its officers, Meadow, Huegel and Weisfisch, received and hold their respective ownership interests in Scott Conant Management.
     Red One allegedly never disclosed to SCM, however, that it would be an “empty shell.”
     SCM describes LDV as the alter ego of Red One, and says Paganuzzi is its vice president of operations.
     Red One and LDV were “riding purely upon the success thereof that was achieved solely through the efforts and talent of Scarpetta (through its principal, Conant)” when they cut SCM out and opened 11 additional restaurants, according to the complaint.
     Many of the restaurants were allegedly opened near SCM’s restaurants, representing competitors in violation of the parties’ operating agreement.
     Efforts to reach Red One were unsuccessful Tuesday. A spokeswoman for LDV Hospitality declined to comment on the lawsuit.
     The complaint says Red One was “purposely anonymous” while the restaurants grew “due to their lack of name recognition, reputation, and/or track record in the restaurant industry, instead relying on Conant’s well-known name and acclaim to legitimize and publicize the restaurants.”
     Later the defendants embarked on a “media blitz” “to confuse and cause the public to wrongly conclude that the same management and vision behind SCM and the restaurants … would be running the LDV separate restaurants so as to commandeer and build upon the credibility and incredible success and acclaim associated with SCM, plaintiff and Conant,” according to the complaint.
     Many of Red One’s restaurants closed abruptly, however, hurting Conant’s name as well as the Scarpetta name and trademark, SCM claims.
     Red One has also failed to provide an accounting for “wide-ranging periods of time,” and failed to provide any bank statements until as late as January 2013, the complaint states. Furthermore it has allegedly never provided SCM with any bank reconciliations and cash flow statements pertaining to it.
     SCM also accuses the defendants of misrepresenting the actual amounts of management fees received and due to it.
     Lucky 13 meanwhile allegedly withheld hundreds of thousands of dollars in management fees and expense reimbursements due to SCM.
     Huegel additionally violated the parties’ operating agreement by soliciting SCM employees, according to the complaint.
     SCM seeks $23 million for breach of contract and conversion.
     It is represented by David C. Berg.

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