The chef and manager of the West Loop’s highly acclaimed Grace — which closed abruptly in December — have sued the restaurant in an attempt to void the noncompete clauses in their contracts.
Under deals they signed with Grace owner Michael Olszewski, chef Curtis Duffy and general manager Michael Muser were blocked from investing in or even working for another restaurant in the Chicago area for 18 months after they stopped working at Grace, the Chicago Sun-Times has previously reported.
But in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court, Duffy and Muser ask that the clauses be declared “unenforceable.”
Duffy and Muser alleged that Olszewski “has repeatedly threatened to enforce” the clauses, which they blame for their inability to find “consistent work” to support their families since Grace closed.
The noncompete clauses cover Cook, Will, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake and McHenry Counties.
Olszewski said in a statement Wednesday that the suit was “frivolous” and that he had been “very generous” to Muser and Duffy, increasing their salaries to far more than their contracts required him to pay.
Olszewski added, “There are only two people to blame in this situation: Mr. Duffy, who walked out of the job on his own, while instructing his staff to do the same in the middle of the holidays, with no guarantee of a job, and Mr. Muser, who was given over a year to address multiple and well-documented shortcomings in his role of G.M., but did not do so.”
Sean O’Callaghan, the attorney for Duffy and Muser, did not reply to messages seeking comment.
When it closed after five years at 652 W. Randolph St., Grace was one of the most lavishly praised and expensive restaurants in Chicago, with patrons paying hundreds of dollars per person to dine there.
“Grace restaurant was a world-famous, three-Michelin-star-awarded restaurant and a culinary jewel of Chicago,” according to the suit.
But Olszewski fired Muser on Nov. 30, the Sun-Times has reported. In a termination letter, the owner said Muser exhibited “continual failure to perform duties as sommelier and general manager for the past year.” Olszewski also accused Muser of “chronic absenteeism.”
Duffy quit within three weeks of Muser’s firing, and Grace closed two days later, on Dec. 20.
In their newly filed case, Duffy and Muser blamed Muser’s firing for Grace’s demise, although they say “disputes” with Olszewski “had been simmering for several years.”