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The French Laundry’s Thomas Keller Sues His Insurance Company Over Coronavirus Coverage Denial

Also: An illicit party in a shuttered seaside restaurant, and more news to start your day

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Thomas Keller, the owner of Napa County restaurants the French Laundry and Bouchon Bistro, is suing his insurance company after the coronavirus crisis prompted the closure of his restaurants.
Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images for Starwood Preferred Guest

Lawyers for celebrity chef Thomas Keller say that they expect Hartford Fire Insurance Co. to delay coverage for his Napa County restaurants.

It’s not news that insurance companies are hustling to claim that policies for restaurants and bars won’t cover losses suffered during the pandemic: Eater’s national website covered this a week ago, noting that recent SARS and Ebola epidemics mean language that denies coverage related to “cases of viruses and bacteria” was added to some policies, and that others have to demonstrate that any losses suffered were “caused by direct or physical damage to property.” Obviously, when losses are prompted by a complete closure to stave off mass deaths during a pandemic, physical damage isn’t the issue, a loophole that folks like insurance company lawyer Shannon O’Malley says means that claims should be denied.

The insurance company stance has led New Orleans seafood spot Oceana Grill to take legal action against its insurance company, in that case arguing that revenue losses “due to civil-authority actions with coronavirus restrictions” should be covered by Lloyd’s of London, with which it has its loss and liability policy.

Oceana’s lawyer has now been retained by Thomas Keller, the powerful and high-profile owner of Yountville’s the French Laundry and Bouchon Bistro, the SF Chronicle reports. Keller filed a similar suit on Wednesday in Napa County Superior Court, saying via statement that “we need insurance companies to do the right thing and save millions of jobs.”

Lawyer John Houghtaling, the attorney in both the Keller and Oceana cases, says “I represent restaurants across the country, and they’re all being told the same thing...The insurance industry is denying the fact that the coronavirus poses a danger to property.” With voices like Keller’s joining the cry against denials, it’s possible that companies might reverse course — or be forced to by courtrooms sympathetic to restaurants that, despite President Trump’s optimism (?), might never recover.

And in other news...

  • Montara Beach destination La Costanera was the site of an illicit two-day shindig Saturday, after thieves were caught on video breaking in and whooping it up. [SF Chronicle]
  • Police have arrested three for a fatal shooting at Mission District curry spot Al Hamra that went down just hours before the city’s shelter-in-place was enacted. [Mission Local]
  • Rich Table chef Sarah Rich, who’s never been quiet about the demands a small business faces for its founders, unleashed a starkly angry series of tweets about the overwhelming impact the current crisis has on businesses like hers. (This isn’t the last time you’ll hear from the award-winning restaurateur today, keep an eye on Eater SF for more from Rich on the challenging of parenting during a pandemic latee this morning.) [Sarah Rich/Twitter]
  • San Francisco mainstay Tadich Grill refuses to lay anyone off during the shelter-in-place period. “Our employees are our DNA,” Tadich CFO Melissa Buich says. “We couldn’t do this without each and every one of them.” [SF Gate]
  • Add Oakland Israeli spot Pomella to the list of spots that opened this week, coronavirus be damned. The restaurant from hummus-centric Ba-Bite founder Mica Talmor joins Doña in Chow’s former Piedmont Avenue space. [Berkeleyside]
  • The owner of NoPa art bar Madrone says in an op-ed that San Francisco should launch a Universal Basic Income (UBI) for its service sector and make access to broadband internet a public utility, which would span the digital divide “for out-of-work residents looking for jobs and online professional development opportunities.” [SF Examiner]
  • People were so psyched to get their hands on boozy frozen concoctions from South Bay chain Aqui Cal-Mex that they ignored social distancing rules and enraged social media users. [San Jose Mercury News]

Oceana Grill

739 Conti Street, , LA 70130 (504) 525-6002 Visit Website

Rich Table

199 Gough Street, , CA 94102 (415) 355-9085 Visit Website

Tadich Grill

240 California Street, , CA 94111 (415) 391-1849 Visit Website

The French Laundry

6640 Washington Street, , CA 94599 (707) 944-2380 Visit Website