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What went wrong at Noosh?

It was on top of the world, but then Noosh, at 2001 Fillmore, went dark.


Noosh, the hot new California-inspired Mediterranean restaurant at Fillmore and Pine, rocketed off the launch pad in February and soared to great heights, only to explode the week before Thanksgiving when the money partner suddenly announced he was firing and suing his two highly lauded chef partners.

CEO John Litz on November 21 locked out the chefs and staff and posted a sign on Noosh’s front door saying the restaurant was “cooking up something new” and would be “closed for a couple of days.” By early December, he was still trying to re-open, now with a new “culinary advisor” — prominent pastry chef Emily Luchetti.

Chefs Sayat and Laura Ozyilmaz, the husband and wife team who have cooked in five of the world’s top 50 restaurants and were christened “rising stars” by the Chronicle in September, declared themselves “devastated to have been separated from their fans, customers and the family they have built with the employee team at Noosh.”

In a 25-page lawsuit filed the day before, Litz alleged a laundry list of grievances against the Ozyilmazes, including misappropriation of funds, breach of oral contract and fraud. Laura called the allegations “ridiculous.” Sayat said: “We deny everything. None of it is true.”

The lawsuit suggests that Litz and the Ozyilmazes never reached agreement on the terms of their 50-50 partnership. Noosh was an almost instant success when it opened in February, with lines day and night out the door and down Pine Street. But friction among the partners was apparent from the beginning and, by April, police officers were called after a contentious meeting and a police report was filed.

Litz then disappeared from the restaurant. Some of his high-tech innovations were dialed back, including requiring diners to swipe their credit cards upon entering. In the lawsuit, Litz alleged his partners “have actively sought to make the restaurant unmanageable, while forcing [Litz] to remove himself from the premises.” The Ozyilmazes said Litz “has not been at the restaurant since May.”

John Litz (left) and Sayat and Laura Ozyilmaz in happier days.

In the lawsuit, Litz alleges the Ozyilmazes initially had “verbally assured [Litz] they had no problems” with the agreements he had proposed, but in fact “had no intention to sign or abide by the terms” of any agreements “that did not give them effective control of the restaurant business and relegate [Litz] to a largely passive role.”  

The partners can’t even agree on who came up with the name. Litz says he planned to call the restaurant Noosh long before he met the chefs. Sayat says the restaurant is named after his grandmother.

Left in the lurch were Noosh’s 75 employees. Amid uncertainty about whether they would be paid during the closure, many gathered on the sidewalk outside the restaurant the day after they were locked out and seemed to be firmly on the side of the Ozyilmazes.

“I didn’t see it coming at all,” said Ricardo Romero, a server. “We had a really caring, loving, tight team. What John did is not the right way to do things.” Added bartender Alex Vlausu: “It was a shock. We had a top-notch team.”

General manager Sean O’Hair, now on leave, told EaterSF the Ozyilmazes were responsible for Noosh’s success. “These people are lightning in a bottle, and it breaks my fucking heart to see someone do this to them,” he said. “It’s just patently unfair.”

Despite the allegations of mismanagement and misbehavior in his lawsuit, Litz acknowledged the restaurant’s success in a brief statement on December 2.

“In the short time Noosh has been open, the support we have received from the community is truly heartfelt and magical,” he wrote. “We are honored to have become part of the social fabric of the community here on Fillmore.”

He insisted the restaurant will continue without its star chefs. “Moving forward, we are taking proper time to build an exceptionally strong management team. Noosh is excited to open our doors as soon as possible and continue to serve the community.”

UPDATE: Noosh has now reopened.