Restaurateur Thom Pham and his sisters reached an out-of-court settlement agreement yesterday.
Pending the stamp of a judge, the agreement will put to bed allegations that Pham's sisters embezzled a quarter-million dollars from one of his businesses through a secret bank account and stole his recipes.
The sisters have denied the accusations, arguing Pham knew about the alleged secret bank account for years.[jump]
"We've been screaming this at the top of our lungs," said Charis Fishbein in an interview with City Pages the day before the settlement. "We're being attacked, we're being trashed by this guy who was our brother and is taking us for all that we have. We've spent more on lawyer fees than we did on the restaurant."
Pham's three sisters--Hannah Johnson, Grace Ray and Fishbein--began working at Pham's first restaurant, Thanh Do, when he opened it in 2000.
"We did it as a family," said Johnson. "It was a 100-percent family effort."
When Pham went on to open Azia in South Minneapolis in 2003, the sisters took over day-to-day operations at Thanh Do, though Pham still owned it.
The sisters say they opened an alternative TCF account while managing Thanh Do after Pham continually took out loans on the business and failed to make payments. They assert that Pham was well aware of the account.
The sisters ran the St. Louis Park restaurant until 2009, when Pham fired them through a text message, they say. Because the lease was technically in the sisters' names, they inherited the space.
Pham called St. Louis Park police shortly after and claimed two of his former employees had embezzled money from his restaurant using the TCF account, though he failed to mention the former employees were also his sisters, according to a police report.
Pham called off the investigation days later.
This past summer, Pham's executive assistant, Liz Grezechowiak, called police again and re-opened the investigation.
Meanwhile, the sisters opened A Wok In The Park in the former Thanh Do space in September and Pham re-opened Thanh Do across the street.
St. Louis Park police ultimately dropped their criminal investigation after an officer discovered that the former employees were Pham's family members, according to the police report. The officer also learned that Pham spoke English very well, despite the restaurant owner's claims to the contrary.
On Sunday, the sisters lamented the attorney fees and lengthy depositions they have endured since Pham filed the civil suit. They even held a fundraiser earlier this month to raise money for legal fees, where they pulled in $2,000.
Both parties confirmed they reached a settlement Monday, though neither could comment on the specifics as a condition of the agreement.
"It's not finalized yet, so there's not much I can talk about," says Pham.
"It's all good," he says. "It's all positive."