NEW ORLEANS — The owners of the Ruby Slipper Cafe in New Orleans have sued a former executive adviser claiming fraud and breach of contract.
The owners of the restaurant filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana against Christopher Belou.
The case stems from changes that were happening at Ruby Slipper in February 2017. A new location was set to open on South Broad Street in New Orleans. The owner of Ruby Slipper needed to decide whether to stay in the location on South Cortez Street or try to get out of the lease.
The owner sought the advice of Belou, who recommended vacating the space and getting out of the lease, which the owner did.
The plaintiff claims it was later discovered that Belou had been negotiating to take over the leased space and open up a competing restaurant -- “a restaurant, moreover, based on Ruby Slipper’s Southern-breakfast-and-brunch-all-day model,” the complaint states.
“Even worse, it now appears that Belou was sharing with the landlord the details of Ruby Slipper’s confidential internal business discussions."
The plaintiff also accuses Belou of trying to do damage to computer documents.
“After he abruptly resigned from Ruby Slipper, but before his computer access was terminated, Belou accessed Ruby Slipper’s computer systems and, at a minimum, took steps to delete operational data from at least one of Ruby Slipper’s computer databases," the documents state.
The court record also notes that Belou has a long history with the Ruby Slipper chain. He was hired as a consultant and temporary general manager when the Cortez Street location was originally opened in 2008.
He left in January 2010 to pursue work in the hotel industry, but returned to the Ruby Slipper in 2013.
“Belou was Ruby Slipper’s expert and trusted confidant in siting [sic] and opening new restaurant locations," court documents read. "He was intimately involved with all aspects of opening each new Ruby Slipper restaurant, and there was no one in the Ruby Slipper organization with more knowledge or expertise in siting [sic] and opening new Ruby Slipper locations than Belou.”
In the court filing, the restaurant owner indicates that Belou signed a Confidentiality Agreement in August 2015.
“Ruby Slipper has recently discovered, however, that the signed agreement – as well as Belou’s signed acknowledgment [sic] of receipt of the employee handbook, which contained additional confidentiality provisions – is missing,” the complaint states.
“Upon information and belief, Belou – without authority – removed the signed agreement and handbook receipt from his personnel file.”
The defendant also notes that no one, other than Belou, on the executive team believed that vacating the leased property early was in the best interest of the cafe.
“Belou told other members of the Executive Leadership Team that they were ‘crazy’ to even consider staying through the end of the Lease, because they were ‘already stretched too thin,'" the court documents state.
The complaint claims violation of the Defend Trade Secrets Act, the Louisiana Uniform Trade Practices Act, breach of contract, bad faith breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, unjust enrichment, conversion, breach of fiduciary duty/duty of loyalty, and fraud.
Plaintiff has also requested that a restraining order and injunctive relief be issued, which would prevent any other restaurant from opening in the leased space at the center of the dispute.