Celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s plan to leave the Santa Rosa-based restaurant chain he co-founded before his meteoric rise to fame has landed him in a legal dispute with his longtime business partner, Steve Gruber.
Gruber is suing the Food Network star in Sonoma County Superior Court to stop the dissolution of Johnny Garlic’s Inc., founded in 1996, and establish the fair market value of Fieri’s shares in the company.
Fieri, who has gone on to open other restaurants and is host of the Food Network’s top-rated show, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” signaled his intent to dissolve the chain Dec. 14 in a petition to the California secretary of state. Johnny Garlic’s has seven locations across California, including one on Farmers Lane in Santa Rosa and another in Windsor, and boasts Fieri-themed dishes such as Guy-Talian Spicy Sausage and Penne.
The spike-haired North Coast native declined to comment on his plans Thursday, referring questions to his publicist, who issued a prepared statement.
“After more than 20 successful years as a partner in Johnny Garlic’s Inc., Guy Fieri has chosen to separate from the company and its restaurants for creative and operational considerations,” the spokeswoman said. “Guy wishes the entire Johnny Garlic’s Inc., team the best.”
In legal papers filed Monday, Gruber sought to block the dissolution by purchasing Fieri’s stake in the company. He described himself as half owner with Fieri owning the remaining 50 percent.
However, Gruber said the two sides have been unable to agree on a price for Fieri’s shares. Gruber is asking the court to oversee the appointment of appraisers to establish the value and is offering a bond to cover legal expenses.
Amy Witt, Johnny Garlic’s chief financial officer, said the restaurants will continue normal operations under the lawsuit.
“The facts are: Guy Fieri filed to dissolve the company and Steve Gruber filed a petition to stop the dissolution and is exercising his right to purchase Guy’s shares under appropriate California codes,” Witt said in an email.
Gruber is chief executive officer of the chain. In addition to its two Sonoma County locations, the restaurant has outlets in Brentwood, Dublin, Roseville, San Jose and Bakersfield.
The total number of employees was not available. A Fieri spokeswoman did not respond to questions about the chain’s value.
Fieri owns a number of other restaurants that are not part of the dispute. They include Tex Wasabi’s Rock-N-Roll Sushi-BBQ in Santa Rosa, Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar in New York, and Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen and Bar. Gruber also is a partner in Tex Wasabi’s, according to the company’s website.
Fieri, 47, also has his name on an assortment of products ranging from cookware to barbecue sauce.
Raised in Ferndale in Humboldt County, Fieri was a cook and restaurant manager before opening Johnny Garlic’s with Gruber. He launched his TV career by winning the reality competition show “Next Food Network Star” in 2006.
Forbes magazine has since ranked him among the world’s wealthiest chefs.
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ppayne.