(photo credit: FACEBOOK SCREENSHOT)
Famed Israeli-American chef Alon Shaya is facing a legal battle for the rights to his own name.
Shaya, who was born in Bat Yam and grew up in Philadelphia, opened in February 2015 his eponymous New Orleans restaurant, which has received great acclaim, including a prestigious James Beard Award.
But he was fired from the restaurant – and two others – in September, and is fighting to get back the rights to his name. Shaya has said that he attempted to purchase the restaurant named for him, which serves a menu of modern Israeli cuisine, but was unsuccessful. Now he is fighting to stop it from continuing to use his name, in a counter-suit he filed on Wednesday as part of the ongoing trademark war.
“I’m profoundly disappointed that we have come to this point,” he wrote in a statement, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “After more than a year of trying in good faith to buy Shaya Restaurant, I am now forced to fight in court for the rights to my own name. Shaya is more than a sign on a restaurant. It is my personal and culinary heritage and I will not give up my fight to reclaim it.”
In September, according to Eater.com, Shaya filed a federal trademark request for his name. The BRG group countered with a federal trademark lawsuit in late October, and now Shaya has countered this week with his own suit.
The restaurant Shaya was opened as – and remains – part of BRG, the Besh Restaurant Group, which was helmed by famed chef and restaurateur John Besh. Besh, however, stepped down as CEO of the group in October, after accusations of sexual harassment were made public. In the exposé detailing his behavior and the overall culture of the company, Shaya said he himself was fired from the group for speaking up about the need to address sexual harassment issues.
“I made a decision to proactively engage with the reporter for the Times Picayune because I believed these stories must be told,” he posted on Facebook in late October. “For doing so, I was terminated as executive chef at Domenica, Pizza Domenica, and my name-sake restaurant, Shaya. I lost nearly all I had worked for, before I realized what I had gained. As a result of this experience, I have a renewed commitment to do everything I can in the future to prevent the powerful from taking advantage of those that depend on them.”
Indeed, Shaya was fired as executive chef of all three restaurants in September. The exposé on Besh was published by the Times-Picayune on October 22.
By then, Shaya had set up his own restaurant group, Pomegranate Hospitality. In the mission statement for Pomegranate he posted on October 11, Shaya said his new company will be a place where “everyone feels comfortable and safe,” and where the focus is on “mutual respect and professional and personal fulfillment.”
But BRG officials have said that Shaya was fired for more complicated reasons.
According to the newspaper, Shannon White, the new CEO of BRG, said the company made “multiple generous offers to sell its restaurant to Alon for a price much lower than market value” and was rejected.
So far Pomegranate Hospitality group is doing catering, but it would be no surprise to see Shaya set up a new restaurant in the near future. In 2016, Shaya was named the Best New Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation, and in 2015 the chef himself was named best new chef in the South for his work at Domenica.
He is set to publish his first cookbook in March, titled Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel.
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