BY JAYCE WAGNER and MATTHEW KORFHAGE
Some of the biggest players in Portland restaurants are warring in court over ownership of the Lardo sandwich chain.
Restaurant investor Ramzy Hattar is suing ChefStable owner Kurt Huffman and Lardo chef Rick Gencarelli for control of the Lardo restaurants on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard and Southwest Washington Street. Hattar wants the judge to compel Huffman and Gencarelli to sell those two restaurants to him for $1.6 million.
Hattar's lawsuit alleges Huffman and Gencarelli conspired to cut Hattar out of an ownership stake in Lardo's newest location on North Williams Avenue.
The lawsuit, filed this afternoon in Multnomah County Circuit Court, also alleges Huffman and Gencarelli secretly diverted $200,000 from the two other Lardo locations into the North Williams location and the bakery Philippe's Bread.
Philippe's doubles as a commissary baker for other restaurants in Huffman's ChefStable empire, which includes Ox, P.R.E.A.M. and St. Jack.
Huffman, reached by WW tonight, says he did not try to cut Hattar out of Lardo, and that Hattar had agreed how the money would be spent. Huffman says the lawsuit is the result of a management dispute.
"He thinks I am mismanaging the company," Huffman says, "and as a result, he's not getting the returns he's justified to be getting."
Hattar declined to comment.
(UPDATE, 10:40 am Tuesday, Dec. 22: Hattar's attorney, Dennis Steinman, tells WW that Hattar was cut out of business decisions in his investment. "It was everyone's understanding that they all jointly owned Lardo and that any expansion of Lardo would be with the three of them," Steinman says. "And that's not what happened.")
Hattar, co-owner of WW's 2014 Restaurant of the Year Kachka as well as River Pig Saloon, was a founding partner of Lardo with Huffman and Gencarelli, contributing $50,000 to become a 10 percent owner.
The trio opened the original Lardo brick-and-mortar location on Hawthorne in 2012. (Gencarelli originally founded Lardo as a food cart.)
Hattar's lawsuit says that in 2013, the trio agreed to open Lardo North on Williams Avenue. But he alleges that in 2014, Huffman and Gencarelli used $200,000 from the other two Lardo locations to finance the third location and bakery, without telling him.
He claims that Huffman and Gencarelli then amended state business filings to remove his voting rights in the original two Lardos—and they "purported to transfer all of the intellectual property of Lardo, including its name, brand, trademark rights, and recipes."
Hattar is asking a judge to compel Huffman and Gencarelli to sell him the first two Lardo restaurants. He values the Hawthorne location at $900,000 and the Washington Street location at $700,000.
He's also asking for a 10 percent stake in the Williams location, and a preliminary injunction turning over control of the first two Lardo restaurants to him immediately.
Huffman says Gencarelli owns all intellectual rights to Lardo, but that Hattar is still a part owner of Philippe's Bread and Lardo North.
Huffman says Hattar imperils the restaurants by suing.
"Ramzy believes that when he invested in Lardo, he owns 10 percent of all that Rick created in the cart," Huffman says. "I would say that's a fair disagreement. [But] it seems to me that with a forced buyout at the value he wants, he endangers the health of the company itself."