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Reef accused of 'poaching' employees from airport food operator OTG

In a lawsuit, OTG Management says the ghost kitchen company lured staff away to help launch airport locations.
Reef kitchen vessel
Photograph courtesy of Reef Technology

An airport foodservice operator is accusing Reef Technology of stealing its employees to help open ghost kitchens in airports.

In a lawsuit filed Monday, OTG Management says Reef used two former and current OTG employees to "systematically poach" six senior managers in order to compete against OTG in the airport food business, violating the workers' noncompete agreements. 

New York-based OTG  operates foodservice outlets in nine airports in the U.S. and Canada.

The suit is the latest problem for fast-growing Reef, which has recently dealt with a wave of health and safety violations that have forced it to temporarily close some of its parking-lot based food trailers. 

Reef had not responded to a request for comment as of publication time.

According to the complaint, filed in Philadelphia's Court of Common Pleas:

Benjimin Feilen, VP of operations, convergence, for OTG, voluntarily left the company in July 2020 to join Reef. 

Reef hired Feilen, OTG says, to start its own airport operations, in part by luring away OTG employees and using their expertise.

Feilen first recruited a direct report named Kyle McGrath, OTG's airport director for JFK and LaGuardia airports in New York. 

The two then orchestrated the hiring of six more high-level OTG employees, all of whom resigned on the same day in October 2020 and began working for Reef later that month. The lawsuit alleges that Feilen was the primary and in some cases only contact between Reef and the OTG staff during the recruitment process.

This was in violation of post-employment contracts signed by Feilen and McGrath that prohibited them from hiring OTG employees or encouraging them to leave for two years. OTG says Reef knew about those contracts but went ahead anyway.

About a year later, news emerged that Reef planned to open a "virtual food hall" in Raleigh Durham International Airport in North Carolina. It's also in the process of opening in Newark International Airport, JFK and LaGuardia, where OTG operates, the lawsuit says.

"The Reef Defendants pilfered OTG’s ranks with the intention of deploying the former OTG employees for the purpose of assisting the Reef Defendants’ expansion into airports," the complaint reads.

OTG asked the court to bar Reef from opening any food or retail operations in airports where OTG operates for at least six months, as well as damages of more than $50,000.

According to Feilen's LinkedIn page, he left Reef after less than a year as EVP of operations for Reef Kitchens.

Miami-based Reef operates more than 300 delivery-only kitchens in the U.S. with restaurant brands including Wendy's, TGI Fridays and MrBeast Burger.

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