GREENWICH VILLAGE — A restaurant that got hate mail from "CrossFit people" for going vegan is being sued by its investors for alienating the "restaurant's regular customers."
Investors in Village health food eatery GustOrganics, at Sixth Avenue and 14th Street, filed a lawsuit complaining that the switch to veganism hurt the business’s “reputation” and sales was based solely on the restaurant management’s “personal beliefs.”
GustOrganics' sales have flagged since manager Kiki Adami and chef Paul Chang switched the health food eatery from a Paleo raw-foods diet to all-vegan, Adami said earlier this summer. She warned that if business doesn't pick up, the restaurant will go under.
In a lawsuit filed in New York Supreme Court, the restaurant’s investors say the vegan business model is “in contradiction of representations made” when GustOrganics owner Alberto Gonzalez’s sought their financial support.
But Adami said she and Chang reviewed the restaurant's finances and found that the restaurant seemed to actually be doing better since the switch to veganism.
"We went back to 2012, 2013, 2014 — every June we were losing money. That's when people go out to the Hamptons," she said. "This June we were profitable.
"I’m being sued for losing clientele, but for the first June in three years we actually made money."
The majority of the investors' lawsuit outlines a litany of complaints specifically against Gonzalez, who they say was mismanaging the company for his own personal gain, including opening other businesses with the money they invested specifically for GustOrganics.
According to the court filings, around June of last year, he "abandoned" GustOrganics and opened AceNatural.com to sell goods to GustOrganics for above-market prices.
Gonzalez is identified on the AceNatural.com website as the Chief Operating Officer and Corporate Social Responsibility Director. In a company profile, he says his favorite foods are the meat empanadas at GustOrganics, which they no longer serve.
The investors are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop Gonzalez, Adami and Chang from doing anything with the business. They want Gonzalez to turn the business over to their control, and they are seeking monetary damages directly from Gonzalez in an amount to be determined at trial.
The lawyer representing the investors declined to comment on the suit, and Gonzalez said he was advised by his lawyer not to speak with the press.
"I will provide my side of the story in court," he said.
Adami said she doesn't understand why the investors are blaming her.
"I worked pro bono for one year and paid myself the bare minimum for the past eight months — just so I wouldn't go broke," she said, "because I care about the company."