Trendy big-city restaurants are often here today, gone tomorrow. Such is the case with Grace, a hot West Loop eatery that earned three Michelin stars, a bevy of industry awards, and was the most coveted reservation in Chicago before its owner abruptly closed the restaurant late in 2017. Now, Grace’s former star chef and manager/sommelier are suing to void their noncompete employment agreements.
Head chef Curtis D. and general manager Michael M. were allegedly working together at Avenues restaurant in Chicago’s chic Peninsula Hotel, when they met Michael O. Curtis and Michael M. had discussed opening their own restaurant which they wanted to name Grace, and found an eager investor in Michael O., who had no experience in the culinary industry. The three went into business together in 2011.
The complaint filed February 20 in Cook County Circuit Court describes the high-priced Grace restaurant as an immediate success upon its opening in 2014 and a “culinary jewel” of the city. It was reportedly profitable within eight months, and Michael O. recouped his entire $3 million investment in the restaurant within several years.
The plaintiffs claim their employment agreements, executed in 2012, were drafted by Michael O.’s attorneys and presented to them without the advice of their own counsel. The agreements contained covenants not to compete for 18 months following termination of employment.
They claim they were led to believe they were receiving ownership rights at the time they signed, when in fact they wouldn’t have the right to share in Grace’s profits for five years. Then the pair would each begin receiving a one-third share of the restaurant’s net revenues. Continue reading