Two minority partners in New York City’s now-shuttered Four Seasons restaurant say they had secured rights two years ago to franchise the concept and are suing to prevent the landmark’s rebirth as a single fine-dining place.
A document negotiated with Four Seasons owners Julian Niccolini, Alex von Bidder and Edgar Bronfman Jr. grants the plaintiffs, Kenneth Walker and Lawrence Graev, with a go-ahead to “commercialize” the Four Seasons brand, according to the court filings. The suit was filed yesterday in Manhattan Supreme Court.
The action alleges that Niccolini and von Bidder unilaterally negotiated a deal to reopen the restaurant next year after the original location shut on July 16. The Four Seasons operated for 57 years on the bottom floor of downtown’s landmark Seagram Building, which had been the property of Bronfman’s family. The new owner, Aby Rosen, refused to renew the restaurant’s lease, saying a more contemporary operation was needed.
Walker, a designer, and Graev, an attorney, are asking the court to block Niccolini and von Bidder from reopening a restaurant under the Four Seasons name, according to press reports. The plaintiffs are also asking for compensatory damages to cover their investments in the commercialization of the restaurant, which included the opening of a second New York location in the new Hudson Yards project.
An attorney representing Niccolini, von Bidder and Bronfman told local media that the case is groundless. David Boies told reporters that his clients control 82% of the Four Seasons’ parent company, Four Trees, and that the plaintiffs have no authority to initiative a lawsuit without the permission of their partners.
The legal battle is the latest in a series of setbacks for what is arguably the most famous restaurant in America. In addition to losing its lease, the establishment was embroiled in controversy when Niccolini was accused of felony sexual abuse. He pleaded guilty in March to the lesser charges of misdemeanor assault.