Exclusive: Court Rules Morimoto Shafted Business Partner

"You'll have '45 percent' of the company."Photo: Getty Images

Grub Street has learned that Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto has taken a big hit in state supreme court. A judge has ruled that Morimoto’s original business partner, Donald Fellner, is entitled to 45 percent of profits from his restaurants in New York, Philadelphia, and India, plus profits from certain endorsements and finally two appearances on Iron Chef for which Morimoto received a whopping $20,000. The partial judgment (which you can read here) states that in 2000, after Fellner befriended the future Iron Chef at the restaurant where Morimoto worked, they formed a company, Moridon, in which Morimoto and Fellner had 55/45 stakes. Moridon then entered into a contract with Steven Starr’s company, but according to the court, Morimoto broke the terms of that joint-operating agreement in 2004 by adding an amendment which unfairly excluded Fellner from Morimoto New York and all future ventures with Starr.

During the case, brought almost three years ago by Fellner and his lawyer, Steven Landy, Morimoto maintained that an amendment to his original agreement with Fellner gave him the right to personally keep all profits arising from “private work.” But the court disagreed and ruled that Fellner is entitled to a share in the profits from Rogue Brewery and Nenohi knives, Food Network merchandising, and the aforementioned restaurants. Morimoto maintained he had the right to reserve all profits from his Starr restaurants because he was originally approached via a headhunter (something the judge ruled was irrelevant) and because Fellner misappropriated funds, failed to pay chef salaries, and didn't bring in financing, issues that will be addressed at trial. The trial will also determine whether Fellner is entitled to 45 percent of Morimoto’s endorsement profits from Fukumitsuya Sake and Mishima Foods. The Iron Chef might just want to up that $10,000 appearance fee, assuming he hasn’t already.

Judgment: Donald G. Fellner v. Masaharu Morimoto [PDF]