A four-year battle between the directors of former fine dining restaurant, Muse on Allen, has come to an end.
Wellington chefs Jozsef Szekely and Samuel North, as well as North’s parents, have been arguing in court since 2013, after Szekely was cut out of their business.
Szekely was seeking $97,500 in compensation after North transferred Szekely’s shares into his own name without his permission.
But, Justice Jillian Mallon ruled in the High Court in Wellington that as the business was running at a loss, Szekely’s shares had no value, and his application was dismissed.
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Speaking on Monday, North said the past four years had been “very, very difficult” for him and his family.
“It will be nice just to have things settle down.”
The dispute began in 2012, when 21-year old North and 31-year-old Szekely decided to go into business together.
Szekely and North both invested money in the restaurant, along with North’s parents and his partner.
Soon after the restaurant opened, Szekely’s relationship with the Norths deteriorated.
As a result, Szekely stopped working at the restaurant and North transferred Szekely’s shares into his own name.
From that point on, Szekely had no further involvement in the business. While the restaurant received positive reviews, it was unsuccessful and the company was put into liquidation.
Szekely argued the Norths conducted the company’s affairs in an “oppressive, unfairly discriminatory, or unfairly prejudicial manner”, the judge said.
However, the Norths argued Szekely walked out of the business, leaving them in a difficult position.
Szekely accused North of giving his family and friends free food and drinks on a regular basis. North disputed this.
He argued the breakdown in their relationship happened because Szekely called the Wellington City Council to say he was concerned his business partners were going to breach their liquor licence by holding a family Christmas function at the restaurant.
It was after that phone call that North altered the shares on the company’s records.
Following this, Szekely called the police regarding an alleged assault by North’s father. The next day, North’s father called the police to removed Szekely from the premises.
A year later, Szekely filed proceedings against the company and the Norths.
Szekely then hired a private investigator to make a report to the Companies Office and the police.
According to the judge’s decision, Szekely wanted to open his own restaurant. He put his life savings into that dream and the Norths took that dream away from him.
However, the Norths said Szekely acted irresponsibly when he was involved in the business, walked out on them and then set about destroying the business, the decision said.
Szekely has not responded to requests for comment.
Justice Mallon said the breakdown in the relationship happened when the business was failing, therefore there should be no compensation for Szekely’s loss of income.
“The business continued to operate only because of substantial cash contributions from Malcolm and Debbie (North’s parents). There is no evidential basis to conclude the business would have become profitable if Jozsef had remained involved in it…
“Whichever way the Norths’ financial contributions are taken into account, the result is that Jozsef’s shares were of no value by the time he was excluded from the business … Jozsef’s investment was lost at this point.”
North said his new business – Muse Eatery & Bar – was not connected to Muse on Allen.