A legal food fight, in which some of the more prominent names in Chicago’s culinary scene served up accusations against one another of mismanagement, financial wrongdoing and other scurrilous allegations, appears to have ended quietly, with at least one of the former partners in The Purple Pig walking away from the popular River North restaurant.
On Feb. 23, lawyers for both sides signed off on a motion entered in Cook County Circuit Court ending the legal fracas launched in late 2014 by chef and restaurateur Scott Harris against his then-partners in The Purple Pig, fellow Chicago restaurateurs Jimmy Bannos Sr. and Jimmy Bannos Jr., among others.
The motion, granted by Cook County Judge Katheen G. Kennedy, said only that the parties involved had “reached an out of court settlement” and had agreed to dismiss the litigation with prejudice, meaning neither side can sue over the matter again. Each side agreed to pay its own legal costs, the order said.
Spencer Marks, an attorney with the firm of Pokorny and Marks, of Chicago, who represented Harris, confirmed the dismissal.
“The case was amicably resolved by the parties in a confidential agreement,” Marks said.
He added that Harris “is no longer associated with the Purple Pig restaurant.”
The Purple Pig website also appeared to have scrubbed any reference to Harris’ involvement in the restaurant, either now or in the past, and a link to a Harris bio page which had formerly been featured under The Purple Pig website’s “About Us” page no longer functioned.
Marks declined to offer any further details on the settlement.
Sanjay Shivpuri, an attorney with Chuhak and Tecson, of Chicago, who had represented the Bannoses and others sued by Harris, did not reply to questions from The Cook County Record.
The relationship between Harris and the Bannoses dated back to at least 2008, when they partnered to launch The Purple Pig at the corner of North Michigan Avenue and East Illinois Street. The restaurant has since specialized in offering Mediterranean-themed cuisine centered on “cheese, swine and wine.”
Before the restaurant opened in 2009, they added Anthony Mantuano, of Spiaggia fame, to the group, adding him to the mix of chefs and owners of such Chicago dining institutions as Harris’ Francesca’s, and the Bannonses’ Heaven on Seven, lending pedigree to The Purple Pig. When the restaurant opened, Harris and Bannos Sr. each held 40 percent stakes in the company, while Mantuano had 20 percent. The ownership structure was eventually revised to give Bannos Jr. and Veselsky small ownership stakes, as well.
Bannos Jr. was also hired as the restaurant’s chef.
In November 2014, however, Harris filed suit against the Bannoses, as well as others involved in ownership and management at The Purple Pig. Other named defendants included restaurateur Anthony Mantuano, investor Gary Veselsky, general manager Laura Payne, and Prairie Bread Kitchen.
Harris had demanded at least $1.5 million in damages and removal of the Bannoses from ownership and management of The Purple Pig, over allegations the Bannoses had embezzled the restaurant’s revenue, while manipulating records and moving to cut him out of management at the restaurant. Harris had accused the Bannoses of using business credit cards for personal expenses, including home repairs, vehicle expenses, parking tickets, family parties, vacations and “abusive spending” at an awards ceremony in New York, among other items.
And Harris further alleged a kickback scheme, in which the Bannoses allegedly attempted to conceal revenue from taxation by paying “bonuses to Payne and making fake purchases from Prairie Bread, which was owned by Payne’s husband.
The Bannoses, however, countersued less than a month later, accusing Harris of wrongdoing, as well. They said Harris had defaulted on a $3.6 million loan at another restaurant he owned, and forged Bannos Sr.’s signature on bank documents to loop The Purple Pig into the default. They also said Harris, when the Bannoses rebuffed his suggestion to open more Purple Pig locations, opened competing establishments with similar menus and lured Purple Pig employees to staff them.