The Besh group has filed its response to the motion for preliminary injunction filed by Alon Shaya last week (in which Alon Shaya seeks to immediately block John Besh and Octavio Mantilla from continuing to use the “Shaya” name), multiple news outlets have reported. The filing offers a glimpse into the Besh group’s side of the Shaya saga.
For one, the new filing addresses Alon Shaya’s dismissal from all three restaurants he helmed under the Besh umbrella. In a past report, Alon Shaya claimed that he was fired in September for speaking to a reporter about sexual harassment at the Besh Restaurant Group (now called BRG). The new filing by the Besh group asserts that he was fired because the souring relationship had finally become “untenable.” Besh describes Alon Shaya as “ungrateful, arrogant, and prone to excess,” according to Brett Anderson’s report on the filing.
Here’s what Besh wrote:
I listened to his gripes and contempt for me and my company. I also tried to explain that it was BRG who paid for the high lifestyle and that he had grown accustomed to working only 10 days of the last calendar year while we supported his limitless travel and expenses that accrued on ‘research trips.’ Alon’s lavish vacations and time and expenses writing a book about himself were all funded by the group through Alon’s use of a company credit card.
The Besh group also laid out its claim to the Shaya name. It says that opening an Israeli restaurant wasn’t even Alon Shaya’s idea and that he was initially “skeptical” of the it. The group also claims that Alon Shaya wasn’t the first chef it considered to helm the restaurant. (David Slater, former exec chef at Emeril’s, was considered before Alon Shaya, according to the filing.) The name was originally to be Shuk, after the Hebrew word for market, according to Ian McNulty’s report on the filing. The idea for a restaurant serving Israeli food came to Besh during a trip to Israel in June 2011 with Alon Shaya and another chef, according to Brett Anderson’s report on the filing.
In a 2016 Eater interview, Alon Shaya also described that 2011 trip:
I was in Israel in 2011 for a trip where I cooked for Israeli troops and did a bunch of different dinners. I knew at that moment, when I was in Israel, that I needed to be cooking Israeli food for more than just myself every once in a while.
I started cooking [Israeli food] at Domenica, doing our holiday meals during Passover and Hanukkah. I started to put some of these things on the menu, like the roasted cauliflower, lamb bolognese with tahini, za’atar crostini, and different items that I thought reflected my Israeli roots — but also had some kind of Italian influence to it. Once I realized that the majority of the menu was becoming more and more Israeli, once we started calling hummus “ceci puree,” I knew that it was time to open Shaya. I actually got with my business partner Octavio [Mantilla, of the Besh Restaurant Group], and we found a space and signed a lease. Shaya opened three months after that.
While Alon Shaya claims that he gave the Besh partners an “implied license” to use his name as long as he was associated with the restaurant, Besh and Mantilla assert that Shaya “always understood that the Company owned the mark and had the exclusive right to use it on the Magazine Street restaurant.” The Besh group further states that there are numerous instances in which Alon Shaya demonstrated that he knew this. For one, according to the filing, he asked for exclusive rights to the Shaya name a year after Shaya Restaurant, LLC was formed, which the group believes demonstrates clearly that he knew the group had the rights to the name. The group cites other instances as well.
One of the reasons Alon Shaya gives for seeking the injunction preventing BRG from using the Shaya name is that the national attention surrounding the sexual harassment investigation against the company is sullying the Shaya name and brand. The Besh group points out that the harassment investigation included “complaints about Mr. Shaya personally and the restaurants he claims he oversaw before his termination. Any alleged harm he has suffered as a result of the article can fairly be cast on himself and not Shaya Restaurant’s continued operations.” (Note the part about “the restaurants he claims he oversaw.” It sounds like the Besh group is laying out a claim that Shaya wasn’t even running his restaurants, and was instead taking those “lavish vacations.”)
Whether or not Alon Shaya was originally considered for the restaurant, Alon Shaya argues that it was because of him that the restaurant shot into the national restaurant stratosphere. The Besh team argues that Alon Shaya’s (and Shaya’s) success was because the group invested heavily in him, introducing him to the who’s who of the culinary world, training him extensively in PR, etc.
This case has been winding its way through the courts since Alon Shaya filed a trademark request for the name Shaya. The Besh group sued him. Alon Shaya then asked the court to prevent the Besh group from using the Shaya name, followed by a request that the group stop using it immediately. And that’s how the case got here, with the Besh group responding to that injunction request — and the business and personal relationship between the men laid bare in the lawsuits.
The response arrived on Tuesday, January 23, in the U.S. District Court of New Orleans.