A financially troubled Chicago coffee purveyor is taking aim
at a television personality and investor in a $26 million, five-count complaint
filed Feb. 1 in Cook County Circuit Court.
Bow & Truss LLC filed its complaint against Marcus
Lemonis, of CNBC’s “The Profit,” a business investment show, as well as his
company, ML Food Group, LLC. According to the complaint, Lemonis late in 2016
and early in 2017 “devised a fraudulent scheme” to try to buy Bow Truss “at
a rock bottom bargain basement giveaway price” and then tried to “destroy” the
business when it wouldn’t sell.
The complaint said Lemonis sent secret shoppers to Bow Truss
retail outlets and interviewed employees without the company’s knowledge or
consent. After Bow Truss signed a letter of intent with Lemonis on Dec. 15, Lemonis
took to Twitter to announce it purchased Bow Truss and that he was now chief
executive officer. While the letter did have binding obligations, consummation
of the sale was not binding and “Lemonis never was and never became the CEO or held
any other position,” the lawsuit said.
A week after the letter of intent, Lemonis-owned Bow Truss
America LLC advanced $97,000 to Bow Truss and its creditors, with an
understanding more money would be sent before the sale was completed. With that
security, the complaint noted, Bow Truss paid creditors with money usually set
aside for payroll and employee health insurance.
After another week, on Dec. 29, Bow Truss asked for another
$180,000. On Jan. 4, Lemonis purportedly scheduled a Jan. 5 meeting with Bow
Truss employees at which he and ML Food Group “held themselves out as the new
owners,” all allegedly without knowledge or consent on the part of Bow Truss.
Lemonis also allegedly contacted Bow Truss landlords and said his firm would assume
The complaint further states that on Jan. 6, two hours
before Lemonis said he’d wire money, Lemonis’ company contacted Bow Truss
founder Phil Tadros to say it would not do so unless the purchase price dropped
significantly and demanded “the sole member of the plaintiff pledge its membership
interest … as collateral for the funds advanced and being advanced.”
When Bow Truss rejected the offer, Lemonis did not wire the
money and the company could not make payroll. Social media disparagement
ensued, and Lemonis spoke to reporters claiming accounting irregularities with
Bow Truss as well as discussing — allegedly overstating — the
company’s financial liabilities. Later in January Lemonis said he would no longer
be partnering with Bow Truss. On Jan. 12, Bow Truss employees walked off the
job — the complaint alleged Lemonis encouraged them to do so
— closing stores for a week. Lemonis also is accused of suggesting
landlords file involuntary bankruptcy claims against Bow Truss.
On Jan. 23, ML Food Group announced on social media plans to
bring its Los Angeles coffee business to Chicago, while also announcing Bow
Truss was behind on payroll.
Formal allegations against Lemonis and his company include
breach of letter of intent, for which Bow Truss seeks a judgment of $162,500
— the break-up fee stipulated in the letter of intent — as well as common
law fraud, consumer fraud, tortious interference and breach of fiduciary duty, for
which it seeks compensatory damages of at least $6 million, punitive damages of
$20 million and reimbursement of legal fees.
Representing Bow Truss in the matter are attorneys
from Schain Banks Kenny & Schwartz, of Chicago.