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Lawsuit over Emmitt Smith restaurant alleges conspiracy, $67M loss

Updated August 15, 2023 - 12:07 pm

Football great Emmitt Smith announced in December 2021 he would open a restaurant — Emmitt’s Las Vegas — on the Strip in 2022. The restaurant, it later emerged, would occupy 30,000 square feet in Fashion Show mall, with famed chef Rainer Schwarz and slabs of Smith’s beloved butter cake.

Nearly two years later, Emmitt’s has still not opened. Vegas restaurant watchers have been asking for at least a year: Why the long delay?

A lawsuit filed Monday in Clark County District Court could provide answers.

Schwarz, through his Chef Rainer LLC, is suing some of his former business partners, alleging in the complaint they “arranged a conspiracy to steal the opportunity to open and operate Emmitt’s for themselves, while cutting Chef Rainer LLC and Trilogy out of the deal entirely.”

Smith is not named in the lawsuit.

Essential agreements

Trilogy refers to Trilogy F&B Group LLC, one of four entities, according to the complaint, that entered into an operating agreement in October 2021 to “develop, design, own and operate restaurants, lounges and entertainment venues under the name of ‘Emmitt’s.’ ” Smith’s limited liability company is one of the entities.

In March 2022, according to the complaint, Trilogy also entered into a Management Agreement with Chef Rainer LLC, with Trilogy responsible for leasing space in Fashion Show and building out the restaurant and Chef Rainer LLC responsible for managing and operating the restaurant, including paying for goods, services and utilities in advance of the opening.

Changing locks

Valley Water Mill LLC, a minority owner of Trilogy, and its individual members are among the defendants in this action. In May, according to the complaint, these defendants changed the locks to Emmitt’s, preventing the chef and others from entering the restaurant.

The complaint further alleges these defendants “unlawfully assigned Trilogy’s lease to Valley Water Mill,” while also forming a new corporate entity “to replace Chef Rainer LLC and usurp its rights under the Management Agreement, including by engaging alternate vendors and contractors.”

According to the complaint, these contractors include Gillett Construction LLC of Vegas, which is also named as a defendant, along with president and CEO Darren Gillett. The complaint alleges that Gillett Construction employees oversaw the changing of the locks at the restaurant and have provided tours of Emmitt’s to competing chefs and vendors.

$67 million loss

As a result of defendants’ actions, according to the complaint, Trilogy has been deprived of its only asset — the lease agreement for Emmitt’s space — which the company valued at approximately $25 million.

According to the complaint, Chef Rainer LLC has incurred, to date, more than $2.2 million in costs related to the opening of Emmitt’s. Among these costs are staff hiring, vendor contracts, almost $700,000 in kitchen equipment, utilities, tableware and stemware, and the design and commission of a decorative ceiling and a “grand central staircase.”

More than $1.1 million of these costs have not been reimbursed, the complaint alleges.

Chef Rainer LLC also argues that unless defendants are enjoined, it will not receive more than $67 million in salary and profit sharing it is entitled to under the management agreement.

The plaintiff also filed a motion to enjoin the defendants from engaging in activities related to opening or operating Emmitt’s, from saying they have the right to enter or conduct activities in the restaurant, from saying the plaintiff lacks this right, and from taking steps to prevent Chef Rainer LLC from exercising its rights under the management agreement.

Contact Johnathan L. Wright at jwright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @JLWTaste on Instagram and @ItsJLW on X.

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