GOLD COAST — Two restaurants in the Maple & Ash empire have closed amid a legal battle over control of the company.
Café Sophie, 847 N. State St. in Chicago’s Gold Coast, and Celestina Rooftop in Culver City, Calif., shuttered after operating for only a few months, according to court documents obtained by Block Club.
Both restaurants are part of What If Syndicate. The closures come as co-owners David Pisor and James Lasky battle for control of the 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 the 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.
Pisor has denied the allegations and representatives for Maple & Ash’s insurance company, Gallagher & Co. Insurance, said an internal investigation into Pisor’s alleged actions warranted no action because there was no legitimate “claim,” documents show.
In new court documents, Pisor alleges Lasky closed Celestina Rooftop and Café Sophie without his consent, which resulted in 60 staff members losing their jobs.
Café Sophie’s website says it’s closed because of maintenance issues. A post on Celestina Rooftop’s Instagram claims its owners are “looking for a bigger space.”
The court filing also alleges a notice of default was issued for the Etta location in Houston’s Texas Tower for failure to make a required cash distribution. And it says other planned projects are falling through as landlords are opting to work with other brands.
“Prior to Lasky’s usurpation of control, What If had never closed a restaurant. With Lasky at the helm, the Company has closed two restaurants in less than three months,” court documents said.
The two closures and other issues are being used by Pisor and his legal team to request the appointment of a receiver to oversee the liquidation of the company’s assets, according to a motion filed Wednesday.
Attorneys for Pisor argued during a hearing Friday that a receiver was necessary after weeks of failed settlement negotiations “that were going nowhere” while the company continued operations in disarray.
A court appointed receiver’s powers generally include taking legal control of and protecting assets, filing claims on behalf of an entity and distributing assets to defrauded investors, claimants or creditors through a court-approved plan.
But attorneys for Lasky argued Friday the company was in no immediate danger, claiming What If Syndicate just had one of its “most profitable” quarters.
Pisor’s request for a receiver comes after nine investors who helped fund Maple & Ash’s Chicago and Scottsdale outposts filed a lawsuit June 27 demanding Pisor and Lasky turn over financial records for both restaurants.
A rep from What If Syndicate representing Lasky previously said the company already provided financial records to investors prior for the “meritless lawsuit.” But those records are only pieces of the total financial portfolio, investors argued in court documents.
Pisor alleges that it’s because of Lasky’s actions that he’s been included as a defendant in the investor lawsuit as he has been unable to access company assets, according to court documents.
A court date is scheduled for July 14.
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