Why Geoffrey Zakarian Was Sued By His Own Restaurant Workers

Celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian has opened critically acclaimed restaurants in his 30-plus-year career and has become a familiar face on the Food Network, appearing in "Chopped," "Iron Chef," and "The Kitchen," according to his website. The chef's first big break was at the famous New York French restaurant Le Cirque, where he focused on learning the ropes under chef Alain Sailhac. 

His first attempt at opening a restaurant of his own came to fruition in 2001 when he introduced his fans to his eatery, Town. In the next few years, Zakarian opened other restaurants, including Country in 2005. Town and Country both got great reviews, although Country never made a profit during its three years of operation, according to The New York Times. Unfortunately, shortly after Country closed in 2008, Zakarian was dealing with a lawsuit. The conflict was pretty ugly. All told, 152 former cooks at Country were part of a class action lawsuit against Zakarian and his management firm, seeking $1 million in damages and $250,000 in penalties.

After his cooks sued, Geoffrey Zakarian declared bankruptcy

According to the report in The New York Times, Geoffrey Zakarian went ahead and surprised everyone by filing for bankruptcy in 2011. It was believed that he chose to go down this route to avoid addressing the legal complaints from his staff at Country. In the class action lawsuit, former cooks claimed that Zakarian had let them down by not fulfilling his basic duties, such as paying them overtime wages. The lawsuit also alleged that he even manipulated pay records to pay them less. 

For example, in the lawsuit, the chief plaintiff claimed cooks were shorted two or three hours on lunch-and-dinner shifts. The plaintiff even said he was supposed to be paid $12 an hour but got $7.50 instead. The lawsuit also detailed that $2 a day would be deducted from cooks' paychecks for meals, even though they were so busy they had no time to sit down and eat. Zakarian's former business partners even sided with the employees. One of them said Zakarian misappropriated restaurant funds and violated labor laws.

Zakarian couldn't quite escape the lawsuit, even though he had declared bankruptcy. He agreed in a settlement to pay $200,000, according to a New York County Supreme Court document.