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Grace Saga Gets Uglier as Ex-Owner Files Another Lawsuit

Chef Curtis Duffy and GM Michael Muser face more accusations

Barry Brecheisen
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Sure, the public now knows a Japanese-French restaurant will replace Grace, the acclaimed Chicago restaurant that suddenly closed last year. But that doesn’t mean the parties will now ride amicably away. Details emerged Monday morning on another lawsuit filed by former Grace owner Michael Olszewski against chef Curtis Duffy and GM Michael Muser. Olszewski wants an excess of $500,000 from his former employees for chronic absenteeism and spending the restaurant’s money by shipping food to events all around the world without permission.

Duffy and Muser remain quiet as they wait out the end of their noncompete clause that was part of their Grace contracts. The agreement means they can’t open a new restaurant in the Chicago area until the middle of 2019. They quit their jobs in December after years of contention with Olszewski. Negotiations to buy the restaurant from their boss were unsuccessful. Without his two stars, Olszewski closed the restaurant a day later. Grace joined Alinea in Lincoln Park as one of two Chicago restaurants with a full three-star rating from Michelin. The ranking made the extravagant West Loop restaurant one of the world’s best.

In the months since the shutter, there have been multiple lawsuits. In February, Duffy and Muser sued Olszewski over the noncompete clause, a case that’s been since dismissed. Truffle-gate erupted in March when Olszewski sued the two and claimed $10,000 in prized truffles and Wagyu beef were missing from Grace. The most recent lawsuit, filed on Friday in Cook County court, continues similar accusations alleging Duffy and Muser would miss work without permission to attend food-related events around the world. They would allegedly ship fancy ingredients from Grace to these “unauthorized events” and profit without reimbursing the restaurant.

WBEZ Chicago reiterated what the Sun-Times previously reported: Olszewski spent $3 million on the restaurant and that Duffy and Muser didn’t spend any of their own money. Apparently, Olszewski would like more loyalty for his investment. Despite the lawsuits, Olszewski plans to open a restaurant near his alma mater. Onward Chicago should open by the end of the month near Loyola University’s campus in Rogers Park. Meanwhile, Olszewski has brought in star pastry chef Mari Katsumura to take over Grace’s kitchen. The Chicago native is working on a replacement restaurant that could open this fall.


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