A federal judge on Wednesday denied chef Alon Shaya's request for a preliminary injunction prohibiting his former employer, Besh Restaurant Group, from using his name on the popular Magazine Street restaurant that he formerly led.
BRG is owned by celebrity chef John Besh and his business partner Octavio Mantilla.
U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle said the injunction could have caused the Israeli eatery, named Shaya Restaurant, to close for a lengthy period of time, causing a "tremendous burden" for rank-and-file employees while a new concept for it was developed.
He also said he was not convinced that Shaya would likely prevail at a trial on the merits of the case, a standard that must be met to issue an injunction.
After the hearing, Shaya said he was disappointed but will soon announce the opening of a new Israeli restaurant he is developing.
"We're excited about what's next," he said. "We have a great team in place."
Alon Shaya was previously the chef and a partner at Shaya, as well as at Domenica and Pizza Domenica. All three restaurants were developed by BRG.
In September, however, Shaya split from the company.
A James Beard Foundation award winner, Shaya soon launched a new culinary company called Pomegranate Hospitality. He announced that Zach Engel, his chef de cuisine at Shaya Restaurant, was joining his company as culinary director, along with the restaurant's former general manager Sean Courtney, who is now the company's operations director.
Shaya Restaurant wasn't originally going to be called Shaya Restaurant, and Alon Shaya wasn't the first chef considered for the modern Israeli…
Alon Shaya argues that Shaya Restaurant reflects his name, heritage and talent, and therefore he deserves to retain exclusive rights to use of his name. BRG claims that the restaurant exists because the company had the original idea to develop the concept, and that it has thrived because of BRG's resources and public relations efforts.
After his firing, Shaya filed trademark requests to use the name Shaya, prompting the Besh group to file a suit to block him.
Alon Shaya then requested an injunction that would strip his name from Shaya Restaurant while the dispute makes its way through court. It was that request Lemelle rejected Wednesday, though the wider dispute remains unresolved.
BRG attorney Rick Stanley said his side remains open to settling the case without a trial.
Shaya said he would discuss how to proceed with his attorneys, Michael Riess and Gail Podolsky.
Riess wouldn't comment when asked if his side would consider filing an appeal.
Lemelle poked holes in the arguments of both sides Wednesday, going so far as to say he believed each was "losing" the case.
At one point, he pointed out to BRG's attorneys that Besh left a message telling Shaya he didn't want the restaurant or anything that came with it.
Stanley sought to downplay those remarks, saying they were made in the heat of an argument as the close relationship between the two men dissolved.
But Lemelle also sounded skeptical as Shaya's legal team argued that their client's name was being harmed by association with Besh's group because of a recent scandal that has caused a major shakeup at the company.
Lemelle said harm has already been done to "anyone associated" with the Besh group in the wake of claims of sexual harassment by Besh and Mantilla. He suggested that continued use of Shaya's name wouldn't multiply that harm.
He also pointedly asked, "Was (Shaya) aware of the misconduct ... when it was going on?"
Podolsky denied Shaya was aware of or involved in "any wrongdoing." Someone sitting near Besh in the courtroom gallery audibly scoffed at that response.
Besh, who appeared in court with his wife Jenifer, stepped down from his leadership role at BRG in the wake of the scandal. The company's response to the harassment claims is on a separate legal track from its dispute with Shaya.
An ongoing legal fight between two big-name New Orleans chefs boils down to who gets to use one of those names – Shaya.