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Lawsuit Alleges Three-Michelin-Starred Saison Restaurant Misused Investor Funds

It was filed in January by an investor looking for repayment

The kitchen at Saison
Molly Decoudreaux

Chef Joshua Skenes, the owner and longtime chef of three-Michelin-starred Saison and newly-minted Michelin bait Angler, is facing a lawsuit filed by an investor, with claims of misuse of funds and failure to repay a loan.

Saison Hospitality Group (identified as “Saison Group” in the lawsuit) was founded in 2016 by partners Joshua Skenes and Mark Bright as an umbrella for their growing empire, which now includes Saison (identified as “Saison Dining”) and Angler restaurants in San Francisco, as well as an impending location of Angler in Los Angeles, and a newly-announced Seattle Angler expansion.

Saison itself opened in 2009, serving a menu of Skenes’ detailed cuisine that caught the attention of fine dining aficionados, and earned it high rankings on the World’s 50 Best, as well as by Michelin inspectors. Skenes recently handed over the reins of his flagship to chef Laurent Gras, as he focuses on opening other restaurants. Dinner at Saison, which is tasting-menu-only, costs $298 per person; a fixed bar menu that’s $148 for five courses was added recently. Angler was recently named the Best Restaurant in America by Esquire.

The suit was filed on January 14, 2019 by Hong Kong resident Barbara Shih, who alleges that Skenes and fellow unnamed defendants “Does 1- 50” breached an agreement to repay a promissory note to Shih in the amount of $300,000 (with 5 percent annual interest accrued). According to the complaint, the note was allegedly executed in February of 2013, with written intent for repayment by the defendants in one year (February 14, 2014).

According to the suit, Saison did not repay the note, instead producing a new one for $315,000 to include accrued interest. This allegedly reoccured annually until the plaintiff demanded payment in 2016, at which time the note, with interest, had reached $394,526.71.

Among other claims, the plaintiff alleges that Saison Dining and Saison Group funds were used “to pay for and maintain Skenes’s personal lifestyle, including but not limited to paying his personal credit card debt, funding his extravagant wedding in Japan, and funding his and his family’s personal travel.”

The plaintiff, Shih, has demanded a jury trial, plus repayment of the principal amount and all accrued interest, as well as legal fees.

In a statement, the Saison team denies the claims and mentions the possibility of a counter-suit for defamation. Read the full statement and lawsuit below.

This most recently filed lawsuit is a breach of contract claim against a separate and independently owned company which is not connected to Saison Restaurant. Still, this suit shamefully attempts to smear our good name solely for publicity reasons, in a frivolous matter which is completely without merit. Our attorneys are still evaluating the many bogus claims contained in this suit which we plan to vigorously defend in court, including pursuing cross claims against this plaintiff for its defamatory actions.


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