When Kent Rathbun severed ties last summer with his namesake restaurant group, he also had to walk away from his own name.
According to court documents, in 2009, the high-profile Dallas chef signed over the rights to his name, image and likeness for restaurant-related marketing to his then-business partner William "Bill" Hyde Jr., with whom he launched H2R Restaurant Concepts in 2007. After Rathbun and Hyde's not-so-amicable parting in the summer of 2016, Rathbun, unable to use his own name in the restaurant industry, adopted a moniker: the Chef With No Name.
But a temporary restraining order signed by a Dallas judge last month has barred Rathbun from using the phrase "Chef With No Name" and its corresponding hashtag, #chefwithnoname. For now, at least, the Chef With No Name really is just that.
Rathbun and Hyde launched H2R Restaurant Concepts in August 2007. "This company was formed to acquire existing restaurant concepts that Rathbun had created and successfully run and to develop other restaurants to be conceived by Rathbun. The majority member, William Hyde Jr. ... was to provide financing and other general business services for the existing operations," according to Rathbun's original lawsuit filed in June 2016. H2R's current holdings are Jasper's, Abacus and the Kitchen at 1630, a catering and event space. Briarwood West Investments, owned by Hyde, owns 75 percent of H2R; Rathbun still owns 25 percent of the business.
Rathbun's suit alleges that on March 2, 2009, two years after H2R was formed, "Hyde placed in front of Rathbun a document entitled 'Assignment of Rights to Use of Name and Likeness' ... and told him it needed to be immediately executed by [Rathbun] as a condition to moving forward with company business."
Rathbun signed the forms "under duress; being told that it was a formality, but one required for continued operations of the then-existing restaurants," according to the lawsuit. Rathbun's lawyers argue that the document is "impermissibly vague" and that it is unenforceable "because it is not a contract. There was no offer and acceptance and no meeting of the minds." The document, Rathbun's lawyers contend, is "an illegal and unenforceable contract which now threatens to destroy [Rathbun's] livelihood and reputation as a Texas Restauranteur [sic]."
Nonetheless, when Rathbun and Hyde severed business ties, Rathbun was unable to use his own name in marketing or promoting restaurants. So he became the Chef With No Name.
Since that split and subsequent lawsuit (and the counterclaim filed shortly thereafter), a lot has happened: Rathbun was seriously injured in an ATV accident in November. He eventually recovered and took a gig early this year as chef at the revamped Chelsea Corner. He also helped his wife, Tracy Rathbun, and her business partner Lynae Fearing launch their new seafood restaurant, Lover's Seafood & Market. And in February, Hyde filed a suit seeking at least $1 million in damages.
On March 6, H2R's lawyers filed a temporary restraining order alleging that, by working under "Chef With No Name," Rathbun was still utilizing his name and likeness. H2R's lawyers called Rathbun's use of "Chef With No Name" an "advertising campaign" that "bemoans Rathbun's inability to exploit his name and likeness in the restaurant industry ... while concurrently exploiting Rathbun's celebrity, directly and through others. The campaign includes strategically placed articles in the media, viral video clips with other high profile celebrities, and the full range of social media outlets."
Using the moniker, H2R's lawyers assert, is "sullying the H2R Defendants (including Abacus and Jasper's) and their trademarks; garnering sympathy at the expense of H2R and its restaurants; and simultaneously drawing attention to his new restaurant ventures using his name and likeness."
The temporary restraining order was signed on March 9 and will be in effect until at least May 19, the date of the next hearing in the case, according to documents filed April 10.
Michael K. Hurst, Rathbun's lead attorney, declined to talk at length about the ramifications of the restraining order barring Rathbun from using the moniker "Chef With No Name."
"Suffice it to say, there are differing interpretations of what that means," Hurst says. "Right now, the parties are trying to have some amicable discussions."
The bitter back-and-forth between the two former business partners is laid bare in lengthy legalese with every new document filed. In the March 6 filing, in a section titled "Kent Rathbun's scheme revealed," Hyde's lawyers assert that Rathbun "took H2R's financial backing and Hyde's extensive restaurant business operations expertise, only to spurn H2R and Hyde and launch a public campaign that exploits his celebrity in a manner designed to harm the company in which he still owns 25 percent," according to the filing. "H2R invested millions into the brand 'Kent Rathbun,' and saved Rathbun from ruin and obscurity, only to be rejected and mocked when Rathbun could not force Hyde to sell out.
"To further the injury," the suit also alleges, "Rathbun has poached employees of Abacus and Jasper's for his or his wife's ventures."
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