The acclaimed husband-and-wife chefs behind Noosh were abruptly fired on Thursday in a dispute with the restaurant's ownership, and the drama that's been unfolding there has echoes in several recent stories from the SF restaurant scene.
Look at it as a symptom of the larger tensions in an industry that has been sounding alarm bells recently about the financial difficulties of doing business in a city where the food culture has always been a point of civic pride. But in the situation at Noosh that SFist learned of late last week, the restaurant has temporarily closed and the co-chefs and the owner are each exchanging public barbs and will be bringing this battle to court in the near future, both claiming that the other side is lying.
Founder and general partner John Litz sent out a press release early Thursday — via local crisis PR guy Sam Singer — announcing that James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Emily Lucchetti had been hired as a new "culinary advisor" for Noosh, and the husband and wife chef team of Sayat Ozyilmaz and Laura Ozyilmaz had been terminated. A lawsuit was also filed against the couple on Wednesday in SF Superior Court claiming misappropriation of funds, among other claims. The Ozyilmazes, when reached by Eater on Thursday morning, expressed some surprise about the lawsuit and the press release, but the restaurant had a notice of temporary closure on the door and the locks were reportedly changed.
The chefs posted two videos to the restaurant's Instagram account on Saturday saying that they were wrongfully terminated and were attempting to show up for work. In the second video they can be seen talking to two men who were guarding the front door of the restaurant, with one saying, "This is just what we were told [to do]."
The couple, who were named among the Chronicle's Rising Star chefs in September, later gave a statement to Eater saying they were "wrongfully and without prior notice locked out of the operation at Noosh which they have been running since its opening and through the conceptual and development phase of the restaurant." They said they were "co-owners" of the restaurant and that the "third owner... has threatened to destroy their careers in the past and is following through with his threats."
In his lawsuit, which can be found here, Litz claimed potential losses of upwards of $800,000, and says that the Ozyilmazes "placed the ongoing financial viability of the Company at significant risk."
The origins of the conflict aren't entirely clear, and Sayat Ozyilmaz tells Eater that he and his wife deny all the claims in the lawsuit "one thousand percent." The restaurant's general manager Sean O’Hair told Eater he thought the lawsuit was "patently unfair," and he supported the Ozyilmazes, saying that the restaurant had been running successfully.
The story can't be viewed in a vacuum, though. And while the specifics of each restaurant's successes and failures and interpersonal conflicts are of course specific and different, the one thing this story has in common with multiple others this year is the highly tense environment of the San Francisco hospitality industry in 2019. In a city with loads of disposable income and an ongoing passion for good and interesting food, we're in a moment right now when people are suing each other left and right, and this is just the latest example.
Earlier this year, local culinary star Daniel Patterson was sued by former business partner Nigel Jones over some apparent financial issues and disagreements in the now shuttered Market Street restaurant Kaya. Two other chefs of color, Heena Patel of Besharam in Dogpatch and Reem Assil of Oakland's Reem's and Dyafa, also cut ties with Patterson earlier this year and Assil has come out swinging in multiple statements to Eater — including in this long-read from earlier this month about Patterson's recent troubles with his Alta Restaurant Group and chefs he's partnered with.
And then we have another story of local restaurant drama from Eater about Chubby Noodle and Don Pisto's chef-owner Boutros "Pete" Mrabe, who's in the process of liquidating two restaurant properties — the Chubby Noodle locations in the Marina and North Beach — allegedly in order to fund a different property, Pete's on Green, the bar formerly known as Amante, later Pete's, that Mrabe shuttered in June and announced in September would be the new location for Chubby Noodle (it's also the space where the first Chubby Noodle pop-up launched in 2011). Investors tell Eater that they're disgruntled by all the moving around of Mrabe's businesses, which they claim is an effort to deny them their rightful distribution of profits. Mrabe denies all of this, but he is also the subject of a separate breach-of-contract lawsuit from a former business partner, Nick Floulis, who owns North Beach's Hole in the Wall Coffee.
It's all messy and ugly! And it all seems to have escalated this year at the same time that bar and restaurant owners all over town are claiming that they can't stay in business in a city where the cost of doing business — along with retail rents — has increased dramatically in the last decade. Coincidence?