RIVER NORTH — The battle to control the Maple & Ash empire continues as a judge denied a co-owner’s request for more than $500,000 in payments and different management of the embattled company.
Co-owner David Pisor filed two emergency motions in Cook County Circuit Court seeking to have a court-appointed receiver put in charge of What If Syndicate, the restaurant group that includes high-end Gold Coast steakhouse Maple & Ash and wood-fired-food spot Etta in Bucktown and River North. It also operates restaurants in California, Texas and Arizona.
A receiver would have neutrally managed the company’s assets as it heads into another lawsuit filed June 27 by nine investors demanding Pisor and business partner James Lasky turn over financial records for the restaurants. The investors listed are from Maple & Ash’s Chicago and Scottsdale locations, and claim damages could be at least $10 million.
Pisor also asked for monetary relief, saying he’s been locked out of the company and has not been paid since March. Pisor requested “no less than $500,000” and “no less than $10,000 per week until further order of the Court,” according to court documents.
A judge denied those requests in a hearing Thursday, citing a lack of evidence.
The next major step in the legal saga is a preliminary injunction hearing where both sides will present evidence in front of a judge.
Pisor, Lasky and Danny Grant, the restaurant group’s executive chef and partner, each own a 31 percent stake in the company. As co-owners, Lasky and Pisor oversee all decisions in company operations; Grant is not named in the lawsuit.
“We’re pleased the court sees the need for an evidentiary hearing. We look forward to putting Mr. Lasky and Mr. Grant on the witness stand, under oath,” Lazar Raynal, an attorney for Pisor, said in a statement to Block Club Chicago. “While Mr. Pisor would love for things to move quickly, he appreciates that the court is moving deliberately toward a hearing examining all the facts and documents.”
An attorney for Lasky declined to comment.
Maple & Ash is one Chicago’s most sought-after reservations, attracting the city’s see-and-be-seen crowd with bold decorations, loud music, a strict dress code and steaks costing up to $180.
In the original lawsuit filed in April, Pisor accused Lasky of trying to push him out of What If Syndicate. But Lasky said he was forced to act because there were allegations Pisor acted inappropriately toward staffers, according to court documents obtained by Block Club.
Pisor has repeatedly denied the allegations and said an internal investigation by Maple & Ash’s insurance company, Gallagher & Co. Insurance, has cleared his name, saying no action was needed because there was no legitimate claim.
Pisor’s attorney argued Thursday that Pisor was in financial strain as he’s been cut off from regular cash distributions he is owed as a co-owner. Lawyers also said Pisor he and his family’s medical insurance plans had been canceled, and that he still has not been granted access to company grounds.
Pisor’s attorney argued the appointment of a receiver was necessary because of “deadlock” between the two co-owners that allegedly prevents the business from running smoothly and keeping to various obligations to investors and stakeholders.
But Lasky’s attorney said he, too, has not received any cash payments from the company in an effort to be “conservative coming out of COVID-19 pandemic.”
“No distributions are being made until we feel like we’re in the clear,” said Kevin O’Hagan, one of Lasky’s lawyers.
Lasky and his legal team declined to comment on whether or not these measures to reserve funds were taken during the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
Additionally, Laksy’s legal team argued there was no need for concern in relation to the company’s financial status, claiming the company just had one of its most successful quarters despite two restaurants closing under the What If Syndicate umbrella this month.
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 previously obtained by Block Club.
But Lasky’s lawyer claimed in Thursday’s hearing Café Sophie was closed due to a “design defect” and that Celestina was closed due to a bad business deal that had already been remedied through the opening of a new Etta location.
“The restaurants are filled with people…the company’s doing great,” O’Hagan said.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: