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Rocco DiSpirito & Jeffrey Chodorow resume fighting & suing over 'The Restaurant'


By Wade Paulsen, 06/11/2004 

The cameras may have stopped filming at Rocco's on 22nd, but the battles between the co-founders and co-owners of the eatery, featured on NBC's The Restaurant, rage on nonetheless.

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On Tuesday, June 8, according the the Associated Press, employees of Rocco's co-owner Jeffrey Chodorow, the litigious convicted felon who heads China Grill Management, which co-owns the restaurant with Rocco, barred Rocco from entering the premises when he arrived for a pre-planned publicity photo shoot for a Chef Rocco cookbook to be published this summer -- and then promptly applied to the New York state courts for an order permanently banning Rocco from the restaurant bearing his name.

Instead, the court granted Rocco an order to enter Rocco's for the photo shoot but also barred Rocco from entering Rocco's on 22nd at any time without court permission until the China Grill lawsuit against Rocco and Rocco's countersuit against China Grill were resolved. Thus, until further notice, Rocco will not be involved with Rocco's on 22nd. Diners not wanting to swallow a lot of bile would be well advised to take their patronage elsewhere.

The recent legal events pick up from the ending of the second season of The Restaurant. In the last episode, Chodorow told the assembled staff that Rocco's on 22nd finally made a profit for the quarter -- but the next day presented a startled Rocco with the demand that Rocco either buy out China Grill's ownership interests or accept a buyout by China Grill. As the finale ended, Rocco told Chodorow that he'd have to think about it.

Subsequently, Rocco was sued by Chodorow for damages; at the same time, Chodorow seized operating control of Rocco's on 22nd. While such moves are normally not controversial, because China Grill's standard terms for funding give it the right to take such actions (in other words, a deal with China Grill is very similar to selling your soul to the devil), the haste with which Rocco's on 22nd was launched and the involvement of American Express, which wanted Rocco as the face of The Restaurant, caused Chodorow's normal control rights -- as well as his normal bragging rights -- to be diluted.

Two months later, Rocco countersued Chodorow and China Grill for $6 million plus the restoration of his 50% control. Both cases are still pending in New York state court.

Meanwhile, Chodorow launched yet another in his never-ending string of lawsuits, this time against TV shopping network QVC, a division of John Malone's Liberty Media. In this lawsuit, which seeks $25,000 in damages and $12,000 for food and drink, Chodorow alleges that Rocco and QVC, which sells Rocco DiSpirito products, conspired to divert assets away from Rocco's on 22nd for the benefit of a QVC luncheon in May.

We are amazed that even someone as litigious as Chodorow would sue a company as powerful as Liberty Media, a former division of AT&T, over such a piddling amount of money with such a flimsy case as "conspiracy." The only justification that we can find is that Chodorow is trying to completely trash Rocco with all of his business contacts -- either that, or Chodorow is broke (unlikely) or certifiably insane (which we didn't see any evidence of on The Restaurant).

All we can say is that we pulled out our dictionary, looked under "media whore" to see if there was a pic of Rocco, and then looked under "scumbag" for a pic of Chodorow. Neither picture was present yet, but they should be there in the next edition.









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