A case pending in New York federal court, BLT Restaurant Group LLC v. Laurent Tourondel, Michael Cinque and LT Burger, Inc., provides a reminder of important lessons for professionals in the food services and restaurant industry regarding employee defection and trade secrets issues. The case arose out of a dispute between BLT Restaurant Group and its accomplished executive chef, Laurent Tourondel. BLT was formed in 2004 and operated eighteen restaurants across in the United States and internationally. BLT hired Tourondel as its Executive Chef. As part of the agreement between BLT and Tourondel, BLT incorporated Tourondel’s name and initials into the branding of the BLT restaurants, hence the acronym: Bistro Lourent Tourondel. One of the restaurants in the BLT family was BLT Burger.
After Tourondel left BLT, he opened a new restaurant named “LT Burger”. BLT sued Tourondel, a colleague who left with him, and LT Burger, and alleged that the LT Burger menu copied the BLT menu “almost exactly” and was based on BLT’s confidential and proprietary information. BLT also claimed that LT Burger and Tourondel used the same proprietary recipes at LT Burger as were used at BLT Burger. BLT further alleged that LT Burger misappropriated elements of BLT’s marketing strategy by promoting Tourondel through similar media as were used by BLT. In addition to violating Tourondel’s contractual confidentiality and non-disclosure obligations, BLT alleged that LT Burger and Tourondel breached Tourondel’s duty of loyalty to BLT and that Tourondel and LT Burger engaged in unfair competition.
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