Jacob Bickelhaupt, the chef who attacked his former business partner and spouse, Alexa Welsh — leading to the closure of their highly acclaimed restaurant, 42 Grams — is now suing his ex-wife. He alleges that Welsh has made disparaging statements that have “severely damaged [him] and his reputation,” in violation of an agreement they both signed shortly after the restaurant shuttered two years ago. The lawsuit demands $250,000 to cover lost food and liquor sales at his new fine dining restaurant, Stone Flower, which opened in May in Bucktown.
Bickelhaupt’s attorney filed the lawsuit on Friday in Cook County circuit court. According to the filing, the July 2017 agreement stated that “neither party shall speak disparagingly of, make derogatory statements about, or ridicule, or defame the other.” The lawsuit features a collection of quotations attributed to Welsh between February 2018 to June 2019 — posted on social media, featured in stories from Eater Chicago and Block Club Chicago, and sent in private text messages and emails to Bickelhaupt.
Welsh, in past interviews, has acknowledged the existence of the NDA, reached after the settlement of a lawsuit claiming that Bickelhaupt was paying his credit card bill using money from 42 Grams. She’s still made repeated references to being a survivor of domestic abuse without explicitly using Bickelhaupt’s name, especially when connecting with other victims of domestic violence. In one of the examples of disparagement listed in the filing, she allegedly commented on an Instagram post in October 2017 made by @audrawright (whose account is currently locked): “I lived a seemingly charmed life, yet behind closed doors I was being made to feel as I was less than nothing and certainly less than him,” Welsh’s comment allegedly read. “This summer has been a journey of discovery for me. My heart breaks when I think of the mental prison he’s been locked in, but ultimately [it] was my safety and mental health/well being I had to put first.”
Last year, Welsh moved to California, where she runs a taco restaurant. When contacted earlier this week, she told Eater Chicago she wasn’t aware of the lawsuit and that she was searching for an attorney. She vowed to “handle it like I do anything else, in a calm, straightforward manner.” Bickelhaupt and his attorney, James DiTommaso, declined to comment.
The lawsuit also contained private messages allegedly sent by Welsh to Bickelhaupt as an examples of disparagement. In one from May, according to Bickelhaupt’s complaint, she indicates that she possesses video footage of the attack, writing, “If you don’t want to tell the truth, stay silent, but don’t try to lie about it when it’s not your word against mine. All I have to do is release the video and shit will go sideways. You’re sick Jake. Really, mentally sick. You may have fooled your sponsor and all the recovering, sober former addicts, but you will never fool me.” Another, sent shortly after his new restaurant, Stone Flower, opened, allegedly states in part: “And I don’t buy any of the phony shit you’re doing in the hopes that you can slog [through] long enough for Michelin to grant you [status] again.”
Bickelhaupt hasn’t been bashful about his desire for Michelin stars, widely considered to be the ultimate marker of success for a chef. He earned two stars for 42 Grams in 2014. In December 2018, when he announced Stone Flower, he told Eater Chicago that he was aiming to reach Michelin-star status once again. In an Instagram video posted the day before Michelin announced its 2020 list for Chicago, he tagged @michelinguide and @michelininspectors, saying: “I’ll be waiting, hope we’ll see what happens with Stone Flower.” It didn’t make the cut.
While Bickelhaupt didn’t provide a comment to Eater, a little more than a week before he filed the lawsuit, he uploaded a video to YouTube asking for a second chance while urging critics to talk with him directly rather than posting online comments. The footage consists of Bicklehaupt sitting in front of a camera and talking: “I’ve made amends to my ex on April 3...I wasn’t forgiven, but the amends was accepted, it was a 50-minute conversation.”
Later in the video he said that he’s “not a wife beater” saying he was divorced from Welsh in January 2017, five months before that attack: “Domestic abuse is wrong — 100 percent — I’ve never said anything different than that,” Bickelhaupt said. “But people want me to apologize for something that I didn’t do. I never abused anybody. I did hurt somebody on that one day, and it was 100-percent wrong...I got sober, I apologized, owned my mistakes, I pled guilty to a simple battery charge, not domestic battery, because it wasn’t domestic battery, it was simple battery. Again, not an excuse, but these are the facts, this is what happened. I did everything the state of Illinois asked, and Cook County asked me to do and I went to these 26 weeks of [court ordered] anger management classes that I got a lot out of.”
Welsh, when asked on Thursday, said she had not seen the video.
42 Grams, which was the subject of a feature-length documentary, closed in June 2017, but it was not public knowledge until April 2018 that its closure resulted from an incident in which Bickelhaupt struck Welsh in the head with a bottle at the restaurant. Though Bickelhaupt now disputes the narrative — saying he struck Welsh “defensively,” in accounts he gave to Block Club and to Eater — paramedics took Welsh to the emergency room, where she received stitches. Court records show that Bickelhaupt pleaded guilty to a count of battery; he was released him with fines and stipulations, including mandatory drug and alcohol testing, plus the completion of a domestic violence program.
Earlier this year, Bickelhaupt started the One Flow Foundation, which describes itself as “a nonprofit that supports the culinary industry by raising awareness of how substance abuse and emotional health affect chefs in the kitchen.” He has also posted frequently about sobriety, often using inspirational quotes and hashtags: “From not so great details that I’ve shared with a few people related to my sobriety, to my personal business being written about me in papers and online for everyone to see, I’ve learned a lot.” In August, he noted that he’s spent a year sober.
One of One Flow’s first acts was hosting a pair of dinners in March at Stone Flower in the lead up to the restaurant’s opening. Bickelhaupt billed them as benefits for Between Friends, a nonprofit that focuses on domestic violence issues; it is also the organization that Welsh turned to for support after she was attacked by Bickelhaupt. Between Friends stated that it was unaware of the fundraiser until it was tagged in a (now-deleted) Instagram post by Bickelhaupt, in which he claimed that he raised $2,000 for the organization. It’s unclear if the organization ever accepted the money; after initially denying that it had, it changed its policy about revealing the identities of donors and would no longer confirm or deny its receipt of the money. Bickelhaupt showed an email from Between Friends that showed his donation was accepted. More recently, he filed papers toward legally establishing One Flow as a charity.
Bickelhaupt is seeking $150,000 in lost food sales and $100,000 in lost liquor sales form Welsh, according to the lawsuit. Based on $150,000 figure, the suit essentially alleges that Stone Flower has lost out on approximately 500 covers. Dinner at the 12-seat chef’s counter costs $300 per person, with two wine pairing options, for $174 or $258; service runs Thursday through Saturday, with one or two seatings nightly. Stone Flower’s reservations system currently shows spots open for a handful of 6 p.m. seatings. A message on the site tells customers to call or email for dates not available on the calendar.
A court date has been assigned for December 12, according to Cook County records.
UPDATE: This story has clarified the status of the donation Bickelhaupt made to Between Friends, and has added comments from Bickelhaupt’s uploaded video.