Food

Mirabelle Owner Sues Former Head Chef Frank Ruta for Joining Ashok Bajaj’s Restaurant Group

Restaurateur Hakan Ilhan alleges Ruta violated a non-compete contract when he took on a new position at Annabelle.

Frank Ruta (right) at Mirabelle. Photograph by Jeff Elkins

Veteran DC chef Frank Ruta’s newest high-profile cooking position has come under fire following a breach-of-contract lawsuit filed Tuesday by his former employer, Hakan Ilhan, owner of luxe downtown dining room Mirabelle. Ruta, a former White House chef and a longtime fixture in Washington’s fine-dining scene, recently signed on as the executive chef at soon-to-open Annabelle—restaurateur Ashok Bajaj’s grand (to the tune of $6.5 million) new-American project in the former Restaurant Nora space. The lawsuit seeks to prevent Ruta from “performing services as a chef” at any of Bajaj’s Knightsbridge Restaurant Group locations—which also includes the Oval Room and Modena, among others—as well as damages, attorneys fees, and other costs. 

Bajaj and Ruta declined to comment for this article.

Ilhan’s lawsuit claims that Ruta violated a strict non-compete agreement, included as evidence and allegedly signed in advance of Mirabelle’s opening. The lawsuit states that per the agreement, “for a period of two years following the termination of his employment, the Defendant was prohibited from directly or indirectly engaging in any business located within a ten mile radius of Mirabelle which would be considered similar in nature with 16th Street Dining Inc., [Mirabelle]  including but not limited to restaurants serving American, French, Italian or Mediterranean cuisines.”

According to the lawsuit, Ruta was officially terminated from Mirabelle on September 15, 2018—a dramatic talent shakeup that also involved the ousting of his longtime pastry chef. In April of this year, Ruta joined Bajaj’s Knightsbridge Restaurant Group, which operates several upscale eateries in the area. According to the non-compete agreement’s stipulations, Ruta can’t cook in the types of  high-end kitchens he’s built a career on until September 2020, at least in large swaths of DC. 

The lawsuit also claims that Ruta violated the non-compete agreement by trying to poach current Mirabelle employees, including head bartender Zachary Faden and chef de cuisine Alex Casey

This isn’t the first time Ruta has faced legal trouble. His lauded flagship restaurant, Palena, closed in 2014 after the landlord of the Cleveland Park space filed an eviction lawsuit.

Ilhan could not be reached for comment at the time of this article.

This story will be updated with new information as it becomes available. 

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Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.