Loyola alum sued ahead of opening restaurant near Loyola

Mary Norkol | The PHOENIXThe owner of Onward Chicago, Michael Olszewski, is embroiled in a lawsuit over non-compete clauses his employees signed.

A Loyola alumnus and critically acclaimed restaurant owner who’s opening Onward, a casual fine-dining restaurant near the Lake Shore Campus, is now embroiled in lawsuits with his previous business partners about their contracts and regarding their conduct.

The alumnus, Michael Olszewski closed Grace, a restaurant, which earned the extremely rare rating of three Michelin stars, in December following disputes with general manager Michael Muser and chef Curtis Duffy.

Michelin stars have been awarded to outstanding restaurants around the world by the French tire company Michelin for more than 100 years. Restaurants that receive three Michelin stars are considered among the best in the world.

Muser and Duffy filed a lawsuit Feb. 20 against Olszewski, who graduated from Loyola in 1986, following Grace’s abrupt closure.

With the lawsuit, Muser and Duffy are seeking to eliminate the non-compete clauses of their contract on the grounds they are “unenforceable,” according to court records. This means Muser and Duffy want to change the parts of the initial contract that state they aren’t allowed to work at or open another restaurant in the Chicago area for 18 months after they stopped working at Grace.

A spokesperson for Olszewski said the contract, signed in 2012, didn’t account for Grace’s closing.

Muser and Duffy allege in the lawsuit they’re unable to support their families as a result of the non-compete clauses. Court records show Olszewski said the non-compete clauses were “the most important parts” of his contract with Muser and Duffy. Olszewski also said he “never would have moved forward with opening Grace” if Muser and Duffy didn’t agree to those clauses.

According to the lawsuit, Olszewski was supposed to begin sharing profits with Muser and Duffy on the five-year anniversary of Grace’s opening, but Olszewski fired Muser the day before the payments were supposed to begin.

Olszewski said in a January interview with The Phoenix he plans to reopen Grace (652 W. Randolph St.) in the future. The business still pays taxes and has employees on payroll.

Muser, Duffy and their attorney, Sean O’Callaghan, didn’t respond to requests for comment from The Phoenix at the time of publication.

After being sued by Muser and Duffy, Olszewski filed his own lawsuit March 6 alleging Muser and Duffy took $10,000 in truffles and produce from Grace.

Olszewski declined The Phoenix’s interview request, but a spokesperson for Olszewski supplied a statement, which places all blame on Muser and Duffy.

“The truth is there [are] only two people to blame in this situation: Mr. Duffy, who walked out of the job on his own, while instructing his staff to do the same in the middle of the holidays with no guarantee of a job; and Mr. Muser, who was given over a year to address multiple and well-documented shortcomings in his role of GM [general manager], but did not do so,” the statement said.

The statement also said Olszewski was financially generous to Muser and Duffy throughout Grace’s operation. Olszewski said the lawsuit was “frivolous” because Muser and Duffy took $3 million of his money to open Grace and signed the contract “in good faith.” Olszewski raised Muser and Duffy’s initial salary of $90,000 to $160,000, according to the statement.

Olszewski is now opening Onward on North Sheridan Road, adjacent to Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus.

Olszewski has previously said Grace and Onward are completely separate entities and the closing of Grace won’t have any impact — financial or otherwise — on Onward’s opening, which is slated for this spring. Because the finances for Grace and Onward aren’t connected, the lawsuit is not expected to affect Onward, according to Olszewski’s spokesperson. The restaurant currently does not plan to hire students.

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