WICKER PARK — Mandy Calara, the founder of Forever Yogurt, a franchise that used an unconventional "crowdfranchising" business model to pay for its expansion, is being sued by a doctor who says he's owed $35,000.
Chicago-based doctor Amal Agarwal also claims that he has been denied access to the company's books despite having bought a substantial stake in a now-shuttered froyo shop.
Agarwal invested $100,000 in March 2013 and has not been paid promised quarterly payments, according to a lawsuit Agarwal filed against three Forever Yogurt ventures on Dec. 31 in Cook County Chancery Court.
After the suit was filed, the amount owed climbed to $40,000, Agarwal's lawyer said, because a January payment of $5,000 was missed.
That missed payment occurred around the same time that several hourly workers from Bee & Tea, an Asian steamed bao and bubble team chain also owned by Calara, shuttered and left some workers saying they were owed paychecks.
Earlier this month, Nancy Calara, Mandy Calara's wife, told DNAinfo Chicago that she was working on getting a loan to pay the hourly workers of Bee & Tea.
Mandy Calara has not responded to several requests for comment regarding Agarwal's suit.
Agarwal is suing Forever Yogurt Madison WI, LLC; Forever Yogurt Ventures LLC; and Forever Yogurt Holdings. All three entities are solely owned by Mandy Calara, the only member of the limited liability companies listed on state records.
In March of 2013, Agarwal invested $100,000 into a Forever Yogurt location in Madison, Wis., amounting to a 17.20 percent ownership of the shop. Calara owned 77.8 percent and Kinjal Shah, a sales rep who helped to sign on Agarwal, owns five percent, according to a signed operating agreement attached to the complaint.
As part of the operating agreement, Forever Madison agreed to repay Agarwal's initial capital contribution in $5,000 quarterly installments beginning on Jan. 1, 2013 until the full amount of the investment was repaid.
Another section of the agreement states that if Forever Madison was unable to or failed to make any quarterly payments, Forever Yogurt Holdings would be obligated to repay the money.
Agarwal alleges that as a member of Forever Yogurt Madison, and as outlined in the operating agreement, he has the right to inspect the books and records of the company.
Agarwal, who is traveling on business, was unable for comment earlier this week but John Martin, Agarwal's lawyer, said that his client asked to see the books on Nov. 30, 2015 and had been "ignored" several times after that.
In 2013, Calara launched an idea for "crowdfranchising," where for $1,000, an investor could buy a stake in a Forever Yogurt location.
In an Aug. 2014 letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Calara explained his concept as "a new way to finance stores and come up with a system that engages communities, neighborhoods and individual investors."
"It's kind of a fun spin that doesn't cost much money for people to get involved with," Calara wrote to the regulatory commission.
In addition to its flagship Wicker Park shop at 1924 W. North Ave., which was the first Forever Yogurt when it opened in 2010, the chain has 20 other spots in Chicago neighborhoods and suburbs, including Logan Square, Gold Coast, Andersonville, Bronzeville, and Naperville, according to its website.
Calls to Forever Yogurt's Chicago headquarters at 215 W. Ohio St., were not returned.
According to a former employee at Bee & Tea, Mandy and Nancy Calara this summer opened a restaurant, Mandy's Mojitos, in Miami. Calls to that location also went unreturned.
On Wednesday, the former employee, Juliana Donnaher, a DePaul University student who is attempting to recoup $6,450 in wages on behalf of herself and nine other coworkers, said that no one has been paid.
"I'm a full-time student, so the loss of my job means I don't have time to find a new one. My boyfriend has been buying groceries, that paycheck was my food- and-fun part of life money," Donnaher said.
Referring to the mojito shop in Florida, she added, "It was frustrating to not be paid knowing they had another location in Miami."