Matt Levine Sues Sons of Essex Partners For $20 Million

Nightlife operator Matt Levine files a lawsuit against his former partners, after their working relationship went sour.

Matt Levine outside Sons of Essex.

Matt Levine outside Sons of Essex.

According to the Daily News, the high profile restauranteur, who was the public face of Lower East Side venues Sons of Essex and Cocktail Bodega, filed the $20 million suit last week in state Supreme Court.   The partnership split made headlines this past April, when Cocktail Bodega was shuttered and a war of words ensued between Levine and Michael Shah, the real estate investor backing he restaurants.

Here’s how the News reported the story:

Matthew Levine is suing his former partners at the lower East Side celebrity hangout Sons of Essex and other hot spots for $20 million, saying they used his good name to build a foodie empire and then tossed him out with the trash.  Levine claims Michael Shah allowed a convicted felon to steal from the businesses, filed fraudulent paperwork and used restaurant resources to host fundraisers for mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio and public advocate candidate Reshma Saujani (the candidates reportedly paid for the events)… Shah, 35, let accountant Victor Jung cook the books to filch cash, says the lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court last week, noting that Jung served time in federal prison for embezzling $1.3 million from NBC Universal in 2008. Jung also broke laws by moving booze between restaurants and allowing customers to smoke cigarettes and marijuana in one of the venues, the lawsuit alleges.  Then Shah gave Levine the boot, freezing him out this March.

Shah alleges that Levine was fired because, as the News put it, he “failed to meet financial benchmarks and because he made unauthorized expenditures.”  In a statement, Shah told the tabloid:

Matt Levine drafted this narrative of half-truths and outright lies, sent it to me and demanded $5.5 million in 48 hours or else he would file it… It looks like he has decided to pursue an avenue of public slander.

Levine countered that meeting the “financial benchmarks” was impossible because Jung took money, staff and food from Sons of Essex for his own use or funneled it into other restaurant projects.  The lawsuit states that the firing “was ultimately not about metrics … this was about Shah and Jung wanting complete access and control.”

Sons of Essex was opened in 2011 and quickly became a celebrity hot spot.  Levine took the lead in the campaign for a liquor license for the space at 133 Essex St.  On the State Liquor Authority’s web site, his name, as well as Shah’s, remain on the permit.  Levine co-owns Brandsway Creative, a marketing and public relations firm headquartered on Ludlow Street.

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