For the latest on the dispute at Noosh, click here
Employees of Noosh, the buzzy Mediterranean restaurant that opened in Pac Heights this spring, arrived at work early yesterday morning to find that the locks had been changed, and that security guards were on-site to bar their entry. John Litz, one of Noosh’s co-owners, told them that the restaurant was closed for the day, then delivered a shocking piece of news: Laura and Sayat Ozyilmaz, the restaurant’s rising star chefs, had been terminated from their positions and no longer worked for the company.
According to a press release sent out by a PR team representing Litz shortly thereafter, Emily Luchetti, the executive pastry chef for the Big Night restaurant group, would be joining Noosh as its “culinary advisor.” Yet the restaurant’s PR team would not put Eater directly in touch with Luchetti, and she did not respond to Eater SF’s independent request for comment. Litz, through his PR team, later sent Eater a statement claiming that “no employees were barred entry and the team was onsite to communicate to any employees the restaurant’s temporary closure for two days during management transition.”
Litz — an entrepreneur who was a major investor in Lazy Bear (but is not currently involved with the restaurant, according to owner David Barzelay) — filed a lawsuit against the Ozyilmazes in the San Francisco Superior Court, which you can view in its entirety here. It alleges, among other claims, that the Ozyilmazes breached an oral contract and a “covenant of good faith and dealing,” and that they committed promissory fraud. The details of the suit outline a long litany of grievances — that the Ozyilmazes have misappropriated funds, that they failed to abide by the terms of an agreed-upon stockholders’ agreement, that they created “a work environment in which it became impossible for the Plaintiff to be present on the restaurant premises,” and that they have “placed the ongoing financial viability of the Company at significant risk.” The lawsuit does not specify the total amount of damages that Litz is seeking, but claims that hiring a replacement chef or chefs alone “will result in monetary loss to Plaintiff in excess of $800,000.”
When Eater first contacted the Ozyilmazes shortly after 9:30 yesterday morning, they said they had heard nothing about the lawsuit until Eater SF inquired about the press release. (Later, however, a representative for Litz shared a proof of summons document stating that the court summons was delivered in person to the Ozyilmazes at 7:54 a.m. on November 21.) The two chefs denied all of the allegations. “One thousand percent, we deny everything. None of it is true,” Sayat said.
Later that morning, the chefs, who are also a married couple, sent out a statement in response to Noosh’s press release, alleging that Litz “has threatened to destroy their careers in the past and is following through with his threats.” See their full statement below:
Laura and Sayat Ozyilmaz, co-owners and executive chefs at Noosh, announce that 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. This is a surprising development since the third owner who wrongfully locked them out has not been at the restaurant since May, although he has threatened to destroy their careers in the past and is following through with his threats. Laura and Sayat are devastated to have been separated from their fans, customers and the family they have built with the employee team at Noosh, named by Sayat in honor of his grandmother. Laura and Sayat dispute the false allegations made against them and look forward to resolution as the matter is currently in litigation.
The Ozyilmazes also said that they were hesitant to say much more on the matter because they feared for their safety. “We feel scared that he’s going to come after us,” Sayat said in an interview with Eater. “He said, ‘Watch your back. Look who you’re talking to.’”
The Ozyilmazes said the situation with Litz was tense enough that they filed a police report this spring. According to an incident report that Eater SF viewed, dated April 8, 2019 — just weeks after Noosh opened to the public — Laura told police that at the end of a business meeting, Litz “became angry, shoved a table, and yelled at her loudly in front of multiple employees.” He then told her, “Your life is about to change and you have to be very careful think about everything you do and every step you take,” according to the police report, which notes that Litz did not make any comments about physical violence, but that Laura “felt threatened.” The Ozyilmazes also noted that prior to yesterday Litz had not been physically present at the restaurant since May.
In a statement sent to Eater by his PR representative, Litz later called these allegations of threats “a complete lie and a continuous false narrative created by Laura and Sayat to drive John out of the restaurant.”
When reached by phone, Sean O’Hair, the restaurant’s general manager, credited the Ozyilmazes for Noosh’s great success thus far, saying that it has been “the best volume restaurant” he’s ever worked for, in terms of sales. “These people are lightning in a bottle, and it breaks my fucking heart to see someone do this to them,” he said. “It’s just patently unfair.” O’Hair added that the company also placed him on a leave of absence as of yesterday.
Meanwhile, Noosh’s PR spokesperson said that the company hoped to retain all of its current employees — that “front of house and back of house employees remain employees of Noosh.” The spokesperson also said that the restaurant expects to close for two days to “realign the staff” and then reopen, and that staff would be paid for those two days.
“The reality is, there’s no way they’re going to open on Saturday,” O’Hair said, citing the thousands of dollars’ worth of ingredients he suspects were ruined as a result of the kitchen staff being locked out of the restaurant yesterday.
Update: Nov. 22: 9:51 p.m.: This article was updated to include additional responses from Litz and information about the proof of summons which he provided to Eater SF.
Eater SF will update this article as new information becomes available.