Little Szechuan's former chef sues


Chowhounders, foodies, and food critics united in recent months over the rumored departure of a critical mass of employees from the beloved St. Paul Chinese restaurant Little Szechuan. The exodus was followed shortly thereafter by the appearance of a new Szechuan-style restaurant in Bloomington called Grand Szechuan. A lawsuit filed this week in Ramsey County by Little Szechuan's former head chef -- now heading up Grand Szechuan -- provides a few more pieces to the puzzle.

Chef Guanghe Luo says he was "suspended with pay" -- though he says he has actually not been paid since -- and locked out of Little Szechuan after he sought half-ownership of the restaurant which he says he was entitled to under a partnership agreement he and business partner Rong Bai had. The lawsuit says Luo also had disagreements with Bai over the insurance proceeds the restaurant received after a fire in November 2006 and over rules he imposed on employees, which the suit says included fines for being later for work or for arguing.

The suit says Luo and Bai opened the restaurant in late 1996. The terms of their partnership agreement involved both putting down $30,000 up front. In addition, Bai allegedly got a home equity loan, which both men agreed to pay off. According to Luo, once the home equity loan was paid off, Bai was to transfer a 49 percent business interest in the restaurant to him, but this never happened.

Jury still appears to be out on whether Little Szechuan's loss has made its cuisine suffer. Andrew Zimmern and others have noticed a decline in the quality of Little Szechuan's fare, while the Pi Press's Kathie Jenkins and others say its still got it goin on. Meanwhile, many have been raving about Luo's Grand Szechuan, which opened in late September.

What say ye, readers?