One of Richmond's best-known chefs and one of its fancier restaurants are stirring it up in court.
The Old Original Bookbinder's, a steak and seafood restaurant in Tobacco Row, filed a lawsuit against former executive chef Matthew J. Tlusty in December. In its complaint, which seeks $25,000, the restaurant charges that Tlusty breached his contract with Bookbinder's by working for a competing restaurant soon after his departure.
Tlusty filed a lawsuit against Bookbinder's on April 9, charging that it had an "unduly harsh" employment agreement and continued to use his name and image in advertising after he left.
Tlusty has worked for several Richmond restaurants: the Dining Room at the Berkeley, TJ's at the Jefferson Hotel, and Carytown Seafood in Innsbrook. Projects he's helmed include the loved and now-lamented Limani in Carytown, its short-lived successor, Duro, and the White Anchovie on Lauderdale Drive, which now is Ironfish by Pescados.
Both parties agree that Tlusty became executive chef for Bookbinder's in August 2009, signing on for a salary of $60,000, with a $1,000 signing bonus and a possible $10,000 discretionary bonus. His employment agreement included a section that said within one year of leaving the restaurant, Tlusty wouldn't work for, operate or promote any competing business within a two-mile radius of Bookbinder's, known as a noncompete clause.
Tlusty left Bookbinder's last April. In the fall he was announced as executive chef for seafood and steak restaurant Arcadia — which is about half a mile from Bookbinder's in Shockoe Bottom.
Bookbinder's discovered Tlusty was working at Arcadia in November, according to its lawsuit, which charges "a clear violation of the Non-Compete provision." According to the original employment agreement, Bookbinder's suit says, Tlusty owes Bookbinder's the amount of his salary and compensation from November through April 2012, which it calculates as $25,000.
Tlusty says the agreement is unfair. In Richmond he says, "a two-mile radius is a tremendous amount of the city."
Tlusty challenged the clause in his lawsuit, saying it contained provisions "that are not reasonable … and are not necessary to protect the business interests of [Bookbinder's] and are unduly harsh on Tlusty's ability to earn a living."
Furthermore, it states, the restaurant has been using Tlusty's name and image as recently as April 5 on brochures, fliers and online advertising. This "has diminished and devalued Tlusty's name and reputation," his suit charges.
Tlusty is asking the court to declare the noncompete agreement unreasonable and award him $500,000 in compensatory and punitive damages from Bookbinder's for using his picture without consent.
A hearing on Tlusty's suit is scheduled for April 30. A hearing on Bookbinder's suit is scheduled for May 3.