The once-trusting backers of the ripe restaurant group—which basked in the glow of culinary stardom for nearly three years before beginning to unravel this spring—have begun the legal rush to reclaim their investments.

Lender Stephen Holmes filed the first lawsuit June 29 in Multnomah County Circuit Court against ripe, its golden-boy founder, Michael Hebb, and Hebb's soon-to-be-ex-wife, Naomi Pomeroy, for failing to make good on nearly $200,000 in loans. (Pomeroy filed for a divorce against Hebb last week.)

Holmes is suing for breach of contract on behalf of six other investors, who include Mindy Grossman, a Nike vice president. Holmes, a Portland businessman, declined to comment. The investors made the loans between November 2004 and February 2005, just before the couple opened its most ambitious—and least profitable—endeavor, the Gotham Bldg. Tavern.

The couple failed to make a scheduled payment on the loans in April 2006. Pomeroy then announced she had taken over her husband's shares in the business. It didn't take long for two of the three ripe restaurants—Gotham Bldg. Tavern and Family Supper, both located in the same North Portland building—to close.

Holmes may have to get in line behind other ripe creditors: the landlord, DA Hilderbrand; former employees, several of whom have filed lost-wages claims with the state; and vendors, including Ken's Artisan Bakery, which is owed more than $1,000 for bread.

The empire's first formal restaurant, clarklewis, remains open at 1001 SE Water Ave., with primary ownership in the hands of chef Morgan Brownlow and David Howitt, a partner with the Meriwether Group venture capital firm. Brownlow says he's spent tens of thousands of dollars in recent weeks trying to shore up the restaurant against ripe's financial wreckage.

Brownlow also says Hebb, recently rumored to be in Mexico, has been spotted eating brunch in Southeast Portland.