In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court earlier this month, a woman thought to be one of the founding partners of a well-regarded Japanese restaurant in the Woodridge neighborhood of D.C. is claiming that she worked without pay for a year.
Masako Morishita is seeking nearly $66,000 in damages from Momo Yakitori and chef Andrew Chiou, who is her ex-boyfriend and the legal owner of the LLC behind the business. According to a legal complaint filed by Morishita’s attorney, she’s arguing that she’s entitled to damages worth three times the salary she’s allegedly owed — $20,615.89 worth of minimum wages and overtime from January 21, 2018, to January 20, 2019 — along with $3,029.62 in transportation expenses, $1,055.39 to repay money she spent on groceries and restaurant supplies, and legal fees.
Washington City Paper first reported news of the lawsuit last week.
In stories published by several media outlets, including Eater D.C., Morishita and Chiou represented themselves as both romantic partners and co-owners or co-chefs. But Chiou tells Eater that the restaurant never employed Morishita, an office manager for Fuji TV and a former Washington Redskins cheerleader.
“The lawsuit feels like a personal romantic dispute being handled poorly by Masako who was never an employee of Momo Yakitori,” Chiou writes in an email. “Momo Yakitori values our staff very much and takes fair and timely compensation seriously. I have been a part of the restaurant and hospitality community my entire professional career and find her claims that I would not treat my team well to be unfounded and offensive.”
In previous messages sent to Eater, Chiou says his relationship with Morishita put her in a position to support the business and spend time in the restaurant. He claims he didn’t correct reports that she was a partner in the business because he didn’t want to cause a rift in their relationship.
According to the legal complaint, Chiou explicitly hired Morishita in January 2018 “to serve as [a] cook, cashier, and waiter and to perform other tasks within the restaurant, whether assigned or not.” The complaint alleges that Morishita filled these roles for 5 to 10 hours per day for six days per week. The complaint also alleges that there are no records of Morishita’s hours because Chiou illegally failed to keep them. She intends to prove the time she spent working at the restaurant using “Uber receipts and other documents,” the complaint says.
Momo Yakitori opened in February 2018, following preview stories from Washington City Paper and Eater D.C. The Washington Post published a positive review last December, crediting Morishita for developing the small-bites section of the menu.
Since the split, Morishita has started a pop-up called Otabe that has taken over space at Prequel and the Destination Wedding bar.
- Masako Morishita Sues Momo Yakitori and Former Partner Alleging She Wasn’t Paid [WCP]
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