When Toki Underground marks its sixth year in business on Sunday, there will be two celebrations: one at the H Street NE ramen restaurant, and another down the street from the former chef and partner who’s in a lawsuit with the restaurant.
The dueling birthday parties, set for the same date around the same time, mark another point of contention in the ongoing battle—legal and otherwise—between chef Erik Bruner-Yang (Maketto) and his former Toki Underground business partners Jeff Jetton and Praveen Goyal. In a lawsuit brought by Bruner-Yang last year, the chef alleges that the duo attempted to “destroy his personal reputation” and forcibly involve themselves in his business ventures. In a counter-suit, Jetton and Goyal accuse Bruner-Yang of misusing company funds for personal expenses including sex toys, a fur coat, and tattoos. They also allege Bruner-Yang usurped a deal with the forthcoming Line Hotel in Adams Morgan. Bruner-Yang will operate two restaurants in the boutique property when it opens this spring. (The chef’s attorney calls the counter-suit a “shakedown.”)
The ongoing lawsuit also alleges that Bruner-Yang violated a non-compete clause by serving similar food at Maketto and Paper Horse, his ramen kiosk that debuted inside the Foggy Bottom Whole Foods. Two additional locations have since opened, one inside the Pentagon City grocery store, and another just this month in the new H Street Whole Foods.
Bruner-Yang will offer ramen on Sunday starting at 11 am at Shopkeepers gallery in celebration of Toki’s sixth year. (In email announcing the event, he never names the restaurant; he only calls it “the first Taiwanese-style ramen shop in Washington DC.”). Bowls will go for $12 until they sell out, and kids eat free.
Bruner-Yang says he was unaware of Toki Underground’s official birthday brunch at 11:30 am—a four-course meal for $35, no ramen—when he came up with the plan. He said he already promised wife and gallery co-owner Seda Nak that he’d cover the shop’s Conbini Cafe by Uzu while staff attended the Emporiyum food festival in Baltimore.
“Sunday is the anniversary of when I first opened Toki, and it seemed appropriate,” says Bruner-Yang. “It’s how I got started—hanging out, being in the weeds, slinging noodles. I know there’s a cloud in the air about this, but the reality is I open all my businesses around April–Maketto, Paper Horse, Honeycomb [Market]. Spring is my good luck time, and I’m happy to keep it going.”
The Toki Underground team declined to comment.