Lawyer Says Clients Want to Sell Rocco's
Jul 26, 8:23 PM (ET)
By SAMUEL MAULL
NEW YORK (AP) - A lawyer for the financial backers of television chef Rocco DiSpirito said they want to sell the restaurant that was developed for his network television show and recoup the money they invested.
Laurence Kaiser, lawyer for China Grill Management, revealed his clients' wish to sell Rocco's 22nd Street, site of NBC's reality show "The Restaurant," on Monday at a court hearing to determine whether DiSpirito can be permanently barred from the eatery.
DiSpirito says he owns 50 percent of the restaurant, but his China Grill investors disagree. He asked that a court order that bars him from Rocco's be lifted and a court-appointed receiver take over the restaurant.
If Judicial Hearing Officer Ira Gammerman decides that DiSpirito is an owner of Rocco's, then the chef probably cannot be kept out. Gammerman in June signed the order that barred DiSpirito from entering Rocco's until the court dispute is resolved.
The investors, led by Jeffrey Chodorow, have sued DiSpirito over alleged mismanagement and financial losses at Rocco's. Kaiser said the lost money is the main reason Chodorow wants to sell.
DiSpirito's lawyer, Steven Hayes, argued against selling the restaurant, saying it had made a "substantial profit" for two of the past three months. In May, he said, the restaurant cleared $100,000.
"The restaurant, with Rocco's involvement, can be turned around and made profitable," Hayes said.
Chodorow took the witness stand and, questioned by Kaiser, contradicted other witnesses who said DiSpirito understood that he would be a 50 percent owner of Rocco's.
"Did you ever agree that Rocco would have a 50 percent ownership in the entity that owned Rocco's 22nd Street?" Kaiser asked him.
"No," replied Chodorow, who said his investor group put $4.7 million into Rocco's.
Hayes noted that the restaurant's liquor license application and other business documents name DiSpirito as half owner of the restaurant.
In an apparent swipe at Chodorow's credibility, Hayes asked him whether he was a convicted felon who had spent time in prison for lying on an application.
Chodorow admitted that he spent four months in jail in 1996 for conspiracy to interfere with the U.S. Department of Transportation, specifically that he submitted a false affidavit involving Braniff Airlines. He did not explain further.
"So you lied under oath?" Hayes asked.
"Yes," Chodorow answered.
Lon Rosen, a Los Angeles Dodgers executive who was DiSpirito's personal manager when Rocco's opened, said that despite DiSpirito's dedication to the venture Chodorow treated him "horribly" and "inhumanely."
Rosen also accused Chodorow of being beastly to the chef's 79-year-old mother, making her weep by saying nasty things to her about her son while she worked 14 hours a day making meatballs and doing other chores at the restaurant.
Outside court, Chodorow denied the accusation and said he found it "offensive."
Kaiser told Gammerman that even if Chodorow conceded DiSpirito was a 50 percent owner, "the real question is, 'What difference does it make?' It is clear that his 50 percent ownership has no value."
Kaiser explained that all parties agreed at the outset that the first money to come out of the venture would go to pay the investors. "His 50 percent is worth nothing until that happens," the lawyer said, "and worth nothing if that never happens."
"If Spirit Media (DiSpirito's company) has no economic interest (in the restaurant), should Spirit Media be allowed to require the 100 percent economic partner to do anything?" Kaiser asked Gammerman.
The hearing was to continue Tuesday in Manhattan's state Supreme Court.