GOLD COAST — Leaders of one of Chicago’s most popular steakhouses are in hot water with investors.
Nine investors who helped fund Maple & Ash’s Chicago and Scottsdale outposts filed a lawsuit June 27 demanding co-owners David Pisor and James Lasky turn over financial records for both restaurants.
The suit comes amid an ongoing legal battle between Pisor and Lasky for control of the What If Syndicate empire, which includes high-end Gold Coast steakhouse Maple & Ash and wood-fired-food spot Etta in Bucktown and River North. The restaurant group also operates restaurants in California, Texas and Arizona.
In April, Pisor accused his business partner, James Lasky, of trying to push him out of their restaurant group. But Lasky said he was forced to act because there are allegations Pisor acted inappropriately toward staffers, according to court documents previously obtained by Block Club.
The whole debacle has caused great concern among the investors suing Pisor and Lasky, who say they are worried Maple & Ash Scottsdale and Chicago could close, according to court documents.
“The restaurants depend on the ability of Lasky and Pisor to work together to make sure that the restaurants succeed,” the lawsuit states. “And now the relationship between these two men has devolved into an almost unthinkably nasty, salacious and personal dispute that jeopardizes the very existence of the restaurants and risks the loss of the plaintiffs’ investments.”
In response to the investors’ lawsuit, a What If Syndicate rep said the company provided the financial records investors were seeking “prior to the filing of the investors’ meritless lawsuit.” But those records are only pieces of the total financial portfolio, the investors argue in court documents.
The investors suing Maple & Ash owners include Dylan Bates, Pope Holdings LLC, Ryan Anetsberger, John Orsini, Phillip-Hamilton Investments LLC, Christopher Cowan, Mayer Living Trust, William Glickauf and Chicago Knight Life LLC. Pope Holdings was an LLC managed by Chris Pope, Phillip-Hamilton Investments is an LLC managed by Timothy Roach and Chicago Knight Life is an LLC managed by Carmen Rossi, according to state records.
In total, the investors have contributed $6 million to the What If Syndicate empire — $3 million for each of the two Maple & Ash locations.
Investors also said in the lawsuit they believe Pisor and Lasky have been using profits from raised management fees from the two restaurants to fund other projects that the investors have no financial stake in, cutting them out of future profits.
The additional management fee, which Lasky and Pisor almost doubled without investor consent, resulted in nearly $6 million extra between to the two restaurants paid to the defendants, according to the the lawsuit.
In a statement, Pisor accused Lasky’s “coup” of “wreaking havoc” across the company, calling him greedy for trying to buy him out of the company at a “steep discount.”
“Liens and lawsuits are piling up; we have no way to sign new deals or get new financing. Lasky and his greedy co-schemers have closed two restaurants and fired more than 60 people. I plan to return to the business immediately in an effort to shore it up and hopefully save it from Jim Lasky’s mismanagement and continued breaches of our partnership agreement,” Pisor said in a statement.
What If Syndicate did not directly address whether or not any of its restaurants have closed or if “60 people” had been fired, but did call Pisor’s statement a false allegation.
“In regards to David Pisor, he has not been involved in our operations for an extended period of time and has no real knowledge of what’s going on – we will not dignify the false allegations he’s made,” said the company in a statement.
A court date is scheduled for July 12.
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