July 29, 2020

Despite purchasing comprehensive business interruption insurance coverage, ThinkFoodGroup and Central Michel Richard are alleging that Travelers Insurance denied their financial responsibility

WASHINGTON – ThinkFoodGroup, the restaurant group founded by José Andrés with 28 restaurants in ten cities around the world, and Central Michel Richard, the James Beard Award winning modern American bistro from the late Michel Richard, filed lawsuits Wednesday in Maryland and District of Columbia federal courts, stating that Travelers Insurance Company wrongfully denied coverage for losses resulting from government-mandated public health shutdowns related to COVID-19. 

All across the country, many restaurants that thought they were being responsible by securing and paying premiums for business interruption coverage are now facing mounting costs resulting from their insurance company’s failure to cover losses arising from COVID-19.

ThinkFoodGroup

The lawsuit filed on Wednesday is on behalf of the 16 restaurants covered under the Travelers’ policy, including the Michelin two-star restaurant, Minibar, along with Jaleo, Oyamel, Zaytinya, China Chilcano, Beefsteak and other operations. Despite paying substantial premiums for business interruption insurance, when ThinkFoodGroup submitted a claim to Travelers Insurance for business interruption losses, the company acted in bad faith by categorically denying the insurance claim.

The premium charged for this year’s policy alone is $456,155.

“For over 22 years, our company has consistently paid considerable annual premiums for business interruption insurance from Travelers and now is the time for them to fulfill their obligation,” said José Andrés, chef, restauranteur, humanitarian, and founder of ThinkFoodGroup.  “Given that we were forced to close and the pandemic's effects on our industry, our businesses, our team, and the local farmers and producers who rely on our restaurants, Travelers has a financial responsibility to all of us as we rebuild.”

José Andrés, a legendary restaurateur, chef and humanitarian immigrated to the United States in 1991 and started restaurants with partners that grew into what would become ThinkFoodGroup, based Washington, D.C. Andrés was awarded the James Beard “Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic” 2003 and the James Beard “Outstanding Chef” 2011, and holds four Michelin stars and four Bib Gourmand awards, making him one of the most prolific and successful chefs in the United States. Andrés' is also a distinguished humanitarian, winning the James Beard: “Humanitarian of the Year” award in 2018, twice named to TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” (2012, 2018) and awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Obama in 2016. 

Central Michel Richard

The lawsuit filed on Wednesday is on behalf of Central Michel Richard, a premier modern American bistro that has received some of the nation’s highest culinary awards, including the James Beard Foundation Award for “Best New Restaurant in the United States.” Due to its central location in Washington, D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood, the restaurant is reliant on income from downtown businesses and tourists from the National Mall, the Smithsonian Museum, Verizon Center, and downtown theaters, which are all now temporarily closed due to the coronavirus.

The premium charged for this year’s policy alone, which covers only the Central Michel Richard restaurant, is $28,109.00.

“Central has been a lively culinary destination in D.C. for almost 15 years, all while dutifully paying into business interruption insurance for this exact reason – to help them navigate unprecedented challenges,” said Mark B. (“Chipp”) Sandground, Jr., partner at Kalbian Hagerty and counsel for Central. “By Travelers denying restaurants the coverage they paid for and now need to stay open, the insurance giant is obliterating the many cultural institutions that serve as magnets to our great capital city. We must fight to save our city’s and our nation’s independent restaurants, and that’s what we intend to do.” 

Central is located in the heart of downtown Washington, D.C.  Opened on December 31, 2006, Central is a modern American bistro with a French twist. Central has experienced tremendous success and recognition since it opened hosting notables from the worlds of business, politics and the arts. Michel Richard, the late founder of Central, is a recipient of the Nation’s highest culinary awards, including winner of the 2007 “James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef.” Central was given the 2008 “James Beard Foundation Award for Best New Restaurant in the U.S.,” selected as “Power Spot of the Year” in 2008 and 2009 by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMMY Awards), and had multiple listings on The Washingtonian’s “100 Very Best Restaurants” list.

Central is owned by a group of people and, since the death of its founder Michel Richard in 2016, has been managed by a team of his former colleagues including Central’s former executive chef, David Deshaies who was Chef Richard’s longest serving protege.

ThinkFoodGroup and Central Michel Richard are represented by Washington, D.C.-based Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll PLLC and California-based Gibbs Law Group. The firms are actively reviewing potential claims on behalf of restaurants and small business owners across the country who have been affected by insurance companies’ refusal to pay.  

“It’s devastating to see Washington D.C.’s vibrant restaurant industry struggle to stay afloat from this pandemic as insurance companies rake in billions of dollars of their insureds’ premiums, refuse to pay their contractually agreed-upon coverage and idly watch their policyholders suffer,” said Geoffrey Graber, a Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll partner, and head of the firm’s COVID-19 Business Interruption Insurance Coverage Task Force. “ThinkFoodGroup restaurants and Central Michel Richard are led by some of the world's finest chefs and they feed not only the greater Washington, D.C. community, but all those who visit our nation’s capital every day. It would be tragic if insurance companies like Travelers let these restaurants go under, especially when each of these restaurants’ owners were told that their insurer would support them during this type of crisis.” 

“Travelers has broken the trust of small business owners across the country by not paying for the coverage they claimed to provide, and if they don’t step up, small businesses around the country will be financially decimated,” said Andre Mura, a partner at Gibbs Law Group, and member of the firm’s COVID-19 Business Interruption Insurance Coverage Task Force. “As a task force, we are working to protect not only the small business owners, who have so greatly suffered from the pandemic but also the hundreds of thousands of employees that rely on having a stable paycheck. It’s critical for our nation’s economy that small business owners and working families join together and demand that the insurance companies live up to their agreements, and we’ll do what it takes to lead this fight and make sure they are properly compensated.”

Restaurants and other small business owners who believe they were wrongfully denied insurance coverage for losses related to COVID-19 may contact the Cohen Milstein and Gibbs Law Group’s COVID-19 Business Interruption Insurance Coverage Task Force at 800-924-7107.

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About Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll PLLC

Cohen Milstein is a premier plaintiff law firm in the United States, handling high-profile, complex litigation. Cohen Milstein has over 90 attorneys in offices in Washington, DC; New York, NY; Philadelphia, PA; Chicago, IL; Raleigh, NC; and Palm Beach Gardens, FL. The firm has received numerous accolades for its work and several for Consumer Protection law:

  • Law360, “Practice Group of the Year – Consumer Protection” (2019, 2018)
  • Trial Magazine, “America’s Most Influential Law Firms” (2019, 2018)
  • Benchmark Litigation, “Top 10 Plaintiffs Firm” (2019)
  • The National Law Journal, “Winner – Elite Trial Lawyers – Consumer” (2018)
  • Vault, “20 Best Litigation Boutiques” (2018)
  • Law360, “Practice Group of the Year – Class Action” (2017)

About Gibbs Law Group

California-based Gibbs Law Group represents small businesses, consumers, whistleblowers, and employees across the U.S. against the world’s largest corporations. Our award-winning lawyers have achieved landmark recoveries and over a billion dollars for our clients in high-stakes complex lawsuits and individual cases involving consumer protection, data breach, digital privacy, and employment law. Our attorneys have received numerous honors for their work, including:

  • Daily Journal, “Top Boutique Law Firms in California” (2019)
  • Law360, “Titans of the Plaintiffs Bar- Eric Gibbs” (2019)
  • Law360, “Class Action Practice Group of the Year” (2019)
  • Daily Journal, “Top Plaintiff Lawyers in California” (2020, 2019)
  • Daily Journal, “California Lawyer Attorney of the Year (CLAY Award)” (2019)
  • Best Lawyers in America (2012-2019)