Restaurant Wars: Restrictive Covenants for Chefs & Tandoori Chicken Tikka


It’s the summer and let’s face it, our minds turn to mush.

That’s why reality television thrives in the summer.  Just the ones on food and dining alone could make up an evening: Chopped. Restaurant Impossible. The Next Food Network Star.

(Confession time: I may have watched a few too many episodes of these shows, with a particular fondness for Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  Have you tried the Connecticut-featured ones?)

So, today’s post requires no heavy lifting. Instead, it’s a peek inside the restaurant industry (h/t to an unnamed Washington, D.C. partner for tipping me off to the story) with its dark secrets exposed.

A new lawsuit filed by a high-end dining establishment in Washington DC alleges that its executive chef abandoned his post before his three year gig was up and is now in breach of his contract.

According to the Washington City Paper, an Indian restaurant “is suing its former chef Manish Tyagi for more than $30,000 the restaurant says it spent on immigration legal fees, housing, training, and marketing for the chef, who left before his contract ran out. The lawsuit also accuses Tyagi of exploiting Rasika’s name and reputation and using “proprietary and confidential business secrets” to obtain a new position.”

Wait a second. Chefs have “proprietary and confidential business secrets”? That is what is alleged here.

In support of the Complaint, a copy of the actual contract is enclosed.  Sadly, though, there are no specifics to what trade secret the restaurant is attempting to protect. So that Tandoori Chicken Tikka recipe I suppose still remains a secret.

The contract also provides for a two year non-compete, though the article suggests that is not an issue here because the chef has set up shop in San Francisco.

(As an aside, the contract also specifies that the chef’s compensation is strictly confidential and he can’t talk about it with others. I wonder what the NLRB would think about that?)

So, lest you think the restrictive covenant craze is only for companies, think again.  Here, even a high end restaurant has put one in to try to lock in a chef from going to its competition.  And from our experience, it is increasingly common for restaurants to try to lock in talent for a period of time, though we’ve yet to see lots of litigation over chefs in Connecticut.  Might that start to change? We’ll see.

I suspect that this case — like many others out there — will settle at some point. Why? Because at the end of the day, these aren’t super-rich chefs fighting over, um, the same piece of pie. The executive chef here made $55,000. Nothing to sneeze at, but hardly the six figure salary that some might think they would take home.

As I said, secrets exposed indeed.

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