It's been a year and a half since John Schaefer was ousted as the chef at Irving Mill, the new American restaurant located near Union Square. (Schaefer was replaced by Ryan Skeen, the rising star who's since left Irving Mill himself and is now running things at Allen & Delancey.) But Schaefer's stint at Irving Mill is now the subject of a contentious, messy dispute between the former Gramercy Tavern executive chef and Irving Mill's owners, Suzanne, Mario, and Sergio Riva.
Several weeks ago, Schaefer filed a breach of contract lawsuit against the Rivas, one that contained a series of surprising allegations about his former employer. In addition to arguing that he'd been fired without cause, Schaefer argued that the Rivas had turned Irving Mill into the family piggy bank by using the restaurant's bank account to pay for personal expenses (such as the family babysitter), and the Rivas routinely hosted parties for friends without charging them. He also says that when he was ultimately dismissed and requested his outstanding paychecks, the Rivas refused and threatened to expose him as a drunk if he took legal action against them. The real reason he says he was booted? "The Rivas were losing money and a younger, less expensive chef was available for hire," according to the complaint. "A classic pretext." (Schaefer doesn't mention his mediocre reviews, not surprisingly.)
Last week the Rivas responded to Schaefer's suit. And, as you might expect, they have a slightly different take on their short-lived partnership with Schaefer. The Rivas argue that it was Schaefer's issues with booze that led them to make their decision, as well as his refusal "to get treatment for his alcohol problem." They also say the decision was due to his "repeated mismanagement of the restaurant and repeated refusal to obey the orders of the restaurant ownership." As icing on the cake, the Rivas also filed a countersuit against Schaefer, arguing he scammed the restaurant's health insurance plan.
You can review Schaefer's original suit and the Riva family's response below. In the meantime, if you're one of the people who happened to enjoy Irving Mill's early days, you can still sample Schaefer's cuisine. You'll need a car, though. Last month, he landed a new job as the chef at Grato restaurant in Morris Plains, NJ.
The countersuit by the Rivas: