A Chicago bakery owner is suing an ex-chef for stealing recipes. When the employee left, she took two binders of recipes which the Fraîche Bakery is claiming are proprietary.
The chef allegedly told another employee that a lawsuit would be required to get the recipes back, and added that the owner should have made copies if she wanted to keep them, the Tribune reported.
Fraîche owner Susan Davis Friedman tells the Tribune the special recipes were developed over a three-and-a-half-year period and are the bakery’s property. Benson Friedman, the owner’s husband and attorney, added that the chef signed a non-disclosure agreement, the Tribune reported.
The lawsuit states the recipes “were developed, assembled tested and honed over the course of 3 ½ years. That work cannot be readily reproduced. The damage to Fraiche’s goodwill from the inability to offer these items would be irreparable because it cannot be measured in money damages.”
The cinnamon bomb was described by Restaurant Intelligence Agency blogger Matt Kirouac in in 2010, “If a doughnut and a muffin had a lovechild, it would be the Cinnamon Bomb from Fraiche bakery in Evanston”, and the pastry made Time Out Chicago’s list of the “100 best things we ate (and drank) in 2011.”
What do you think? Should the bakery owner win the lawsuit?
Here are a few more news notes:
The new chef at Meriwethers will be Paul Mitchell from Five Spice in Lake Oswego. As I recall, he was the original opening chef.
The Oregonian reports the ChefStable people have taken over Carafe restaurant.
ChefStable owner Kurt Huffman plans to put Troy Furuta, most recently sous chef at Clyde Common, in charge of reinvigorating the menu. Although Furuta has cooked for more than a decade in California and then Portland, he says he came away from his time at Clyde Common with new skills, including in whole animal butchery.
Carafe right now is definitely a traditional French bistro,” Furuta said. “I would like to keep some of the classic French bistro dishes but make sure it’s modern, contemporary.”
Rumor has it that all employees are being told they will have to reapply for their jobs. Sounds like someone must have had a bad service experience before ChefStable took over.
There is a new chef at Cafe Castagna. Jeff Emerson, last of the late and lamented Alba Osteria in Hillsdale, has taken over the reins. The café will be starting an early happy hour, Mon – Sat from 5 – 6pm.
Hmmm, I’d side with the bakery on this one—-obviously the employee was well advised (having signed an agreement) and overtly stealing the binder (versus copying the information and very slightly altering it, like everyone else, in every other business does) are really strong indications of very bad faith behavior.
That said, with the usual exceptions like Coca-cola’s recipe, etc, I think “trade secrets” and proprietary information is frequently painfully overhyped and more often than not involves information readily available to the general public.
An excellent large scale hospitality analogy was when I (believe) some Starwood upper level executives jumped ship with some proprietary information on launching a boutique brand for Hilton. My reaction was more of, “dude, it isn’t rocket science! Just go stay at some properties on the downlow and you’ll know whatever you need to know.” Not to mention, these were heavy hitting, national executives, yet they couldn’t figure out the components of a “boutique” (marketing spin, really) brand? After it’s been a concept for 20+ years?
As zumpie says — if there was an NDA, there’s probably also (or should have been) a contract specifying that creative material developed in the course of work belongs to the employer, not the employee.
That said, the chef may have a point about the bakery’s not keeping control of the written recipes; the bakery would have a better copyright case (and ownership of the copyright in the recipes would have been more clearly established) if trademark and/or copyright in the recipes had been registered. There’s wiggle room there, though, if the chef failed to cooperate with the employer’s efforts to make those registrations.
In general, I’d expect the bakery to have the better case, but the specific outcome is likely to depend on the precise contract language involved. (And there might well be a countersuit, if the chef tries to use the recipes elsewhere without clear rights to do so.)