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Maple & Ash Investors Claim PPP Fraud in Lawsuit

The legal saga surrounding the luxurious steakhouse continues

A fancy bar space.
The former partners behind Maple & Ash are back in court.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago
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.

One of the items on Maple & Ash’s menu is called “I Don’t Give a F*@ck,” a $200-per-person order aimed at big spenders who don’t care about their bank accounts.

A group that invested in the Gold Coast steakhouse is now alleging that Maple & Ash’s operators didn’t give a f*@ck when it came to the $5.6 million in Payback Protection Program funds the restaurant received for its Chicago and Arizona restaurants.

The investors filed a lawsuit last year accusing the restaurant group of taking $3 million they contributed for Maple & Ash and instead spending it on opening other restaurants. WBEZ reported that attorneys for the seven plaintiffs on Monday, April 24 filed a second lawsuit that accuses Maple & Ash of spending PPP funds on items like country club dues and private jets.

An attorney for Maple & Ash’s James Lasky denied all wrongdoing and called the allegations “nothing more than a futile attempt to gain publicity.” Michael Forde, an attorney for the investors, declined comment.

PPP was designed as an emergency program from the federal government to keep small businesses afloat, giving restaurants, bars, and owners of other businesses the money to pay their workers while COVID kept customers out of their venues. If owners demonstrated that the money was spent according to guidelines, the government would forgive the loans. In recent months, more and more stories have popped up highlighting companies that allegedly misused money from the $289 billion novel coronavirus relief fund.

In March, a Cook County judge denied a temporary restraining order filed by the restaurant investors seeking to prevent the dissolution of Maple & Ash management. That’s one of many moves for the restaurant. In January, co-owners David Pisor and James Lasky agreed to split their company, What If Syndicate, into two when they reached a settlement to remedy their own legal feud over access to funds. The investor’s lawsuit from June named both Pisor and Lasky as defendants.

Maple & Ash opened in 2015, a partnership between Lasky and David Pisor. The steakhouse took an irreverent approach to the stoic steakhouse formula and has routinely placed as one of the highest-grossing restaurants in America. Laksy and Pisor’s relationship deteriorated last year with the duo lobbing lawsuits against each other in a battle for control of assets. The lawsuits included ugly accusations of Pisor’s alleged “verbally abusive and aggressive behavior.” An attorney for Pisor dismissed the claims, comparing the proceedings to an ugly divorce where parties would make contentious allegations.

Investors were also fed up and filed the aforementioned lawsuit. Those listed as plaintiffs include Dylan Bates, former CEO and president of ATI Physical Therapy; Jason Hafner, COO of Fast Pace Health; and Chris Cowan, the current owner of the Kanela Breakfast Club minichain and partner at One Health Home. Healthcare administrators apparently frequent the restaurant as Maple & Ash was involved in the COVID vaccine scandal involving former Loretto Hospital COO Dr. Anosh Ahmed. Dr. Ahmed, a Maple & Ash regular, allegedly made arrangements so restaurant workers received vaccines early, with doses taken from a supply reserved for patients of the West Side safety-net hospital.

In January, Lasky and Pisor announced they’d split into two companies with Lasky taking over Maple & Ash, which also has a location in Scottsdale, Arizona (Not all of the plaintiffs are involved in the Arizona location). Pisor created his own company and took over the operations of Etta. The matter was apparently resolved, but as the PPP lawsuit shows, not all investors are happy with the arrangement.

Before the lawsuits, Maple & Ash had locations planned for Beverly Hills, California, and Dallas.

Read the full statement from Lasky’s attorney, Doug Wexler, below:

The PPP allegations are nothing more than a futile attempt to gain publicity for a small group of unitholders and their attorneys in their latest attempt to repackage a frivolous lawsuit filed last year. The PPP was properly applied for and forgiven. On March 31, 2023, the judge in the prior pending case ruled and denied these few Unitholders and their rogue attorney’s attempt to obtain an emergency temporary restraining order to prevent the dissolution of Maple & Ash management. Unhappy with the outcome, these desperate Unitholders have deliberately filed a frivolous and vexatious lawsuit in violation of the operating agreement of the company and now will face substantial personal liability for engaging in such egregious conduct. We look forward to disclosing the true intentions of these few unitholders and their lawyers in court.

Kanela Breakfast Club

3231 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60657 (773) 248-1622 Visit Website

Maple & Ash

8 West Maple Street, , IL 60610 (312) 944-8888 Visit Website