The restaurant was slated to open at Fashion Show Las Vegas in 2022, according to operator Trilogy Group F&B LLC. But the sprawling steakhouse from Dallas Cowboys running back and Pro Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith has not had much movement toward an opening date. A lawsuit filed on Monday, August 14, in Clark County District Court suggests that the delay stems from an alleged “conspiracy” to deprive chef Rainer Schwarz, through his LLC, of the legal right to oversee, manage, and operate the restaurant — a role that the lawsuit claims would earn $67 million.
According to the complaint, Trilogy F&B Group LLC, the majority owner of the restaurant and leaseholder for the 30,000-square-foot restaurant at the Fashion Show mall on the Las Vegas Strip, entered into an agreement with Chef Rainer LLC in March 2022, with Trilogy building out the restaurant and Chef Rainer LLC performing obligations that included recruiting and hiring staff, contracting food vendors, developing the restaurant’s menu, purchasing nearly $700,000 of kitchen equipment, and initiating payments for utilities.
But in May 2023, after more than a year of working on the restaurant and spending millions of dollars on Emmitt’s, Chef Rainer LLC claims it found itself locked out of the venture. “It turned out that the Defendants, over the course of months, had conspired to steal the opportunity to open and operate Emmitt’s for themselves, while cutting Chef Rainer LLC and Trilogy out of the deal entirely,” the claim reads. The legal document alleges that Valley Water Mill LLC, a minority owner of Trilogy, physically changed the locks on the restaurant space, preventing Schwarz from gaining entry. It also alleges that Valley Water Mill LLC and its individual members who are among the defendants, unlawfully assigned Trilogy’s lease to Valley Water Mill, formed a new entity to replace Chef Rainer LLC, and began “taking steps to start overhauling the elaborate and carefully considered foundation that Chef Rainer LLC had spent over a year putting into place for Emmitt’s.”
Additionally, according to the court documents, the defendants began telling third parties that Chef Rainer LLC no longer had the rights to open and operate Emmitt’s.
The complaint alleges that if defendants are not prohibited from their current conduct, Chef Rainer LLC will suffer severe reputational damage in the Las Vegas culinary community, a loss of goodwill among business partners, and miss out on “the rightfully earned opportunity to establish a strong presence and brand in the highly lucrative Las Vegas restaurant scene.”
Further, the complaint alleges that the defendants’s actions bear multi-million dollar implications. The filing claims that without the lease to the restaurant space, Trilogy’s valuation plummets from $25 million to zero. It also claims that Chef Rainer LLC has incurred more than $2.2 million in costs associated with opening Emmitt’s, and that only about half of that has been reimbursed. Further, Chef Rainer LLC “was to receive an annual base salary of $450,000, and 2 percent of gross ticket sales for events and 4 percent of gross sales from the food and beverage operations at Emmitt’s — a total of $67 million over the life of the contract,” according to the complaint.
All told, Chef Rainer LLC now seeks a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction preventing defendants from what the complaint describes as “inflicting these irreparable harms.”
The development is a shocking one, especially in contrast to the high spirits that were on display when Schwarz, Smith, and Jonathan Venegas, Emmitt’s general manager, hosted a menu unveiling in September of 2022. During the preview at Fashion Show mall, Schwarz debuted dishes he was developing for the restaurant, including Chilean sea bass, Japanese A5 Wagyu with foie gras, a raw bar that boasts a seafood tower, shrimp cocktail, and caviar — and butter cake. (“Emmitt’s very particular about his butter cake,” said Schwarz at the time. “It needs to be done the right way.”)
During the event, the team also presented new renderings of Emmitt’s. Opening in the former two-story 22,000-square-foot Sugar Factory space, the steakhouse’s first floor would be reserved for fine dining. A lunch and cigar-centric Player’s Lounge would double as a nightlife venue, Club 22. And the 16,000-square-foot indoor-outdoor space upstairs would be devoted to live music and viewing parties. Smith is not named in the complaint.
Trilogy issued a statement, saying only that it continues to move forward with the restaurant concept as helmed by Schwarz. The statement reads in part, “Trilogy is the majority owner in the restaurant concept and controls the property lease at Fashion Show Las Vegas, so any assertions from former minority stakeholders are simply misguided and misleading.”