Top 5 restaurant breakups

Valentine's Day is a celebration of love. But then, it's hard not to think about relationships that have gone sour.

Let's open up a box of chocolates and take a stroll down memory lane of top five Twin Cities restaurant breakups.

5. Tom Pham and his sisters OK. So, it's more of a family feud than a romantic relationship gone bad: Restaurateur Thom Pham and his sisters spent some time fighting over an allegation that Pham's three sisters embezzled a quarter-million dollars from one of his businesses through a secret bank account and stole his recipes. The sisters denied the accusations, and they reached an out-of-court settlement agreement in mid-December. But boy, those family get-togethers will never be the same.

4. JP Samuelson and D'Amico A number of D'Amico alum chefs are now successfully operating their own restaurants in the Twin Cities. J.P. Samuelson is one of them, but his departure wasn't as amicable as some others. When he left D'Amico Cucina in 2000, he told the Star Tribune, "This is not the way I wanted it to end, but sometimes you don't get to write those chapters." The details aren't clear, but this split appears to have left some sore wounds. We hope that a decade has helped to heal some of them, especially now that Samuelson is preparing to open a new restaurant very soon.

3. Tim McKee and Josh Thoma Longtime partners Tim McKee and Josh Thoma had a painful breakup last year. The James Beard Award-winning chef and his business partner of 13 years started out together at D'Amico Cucina and opened La Belle Vie in Stillwater. Their success--La Belle Vie's move to Minneapolis, Solera, Barrio, 112, Bar La Grassa--is now stained with bad blood over alleged accounting malfeasance on Thoma's part (which he denies), which caused the pair to lose their ownership stake in Barrio and sever most of their business ties. Thankfully, McKee is moving on with new projects like consulting for Parasole and Masu Sushi & Robata.

2. Chipotle and workers Chipotle fired approximately 80 Latino workers at the end of 2010 after rumors that the Immigration and Customs Service conducted an I-9 audit looking for undocumented immigrants. A recent update from earlier this month reports that two of the workers who were abruptly terminated filed a class-action lawsuit against Chipotle, alleging that the restaurant chain failed to pay them their remaining salary in a timely way. As this conflict is only a small aspect of a much larger issue, it is highly likely that we will see similar problems in the future.

1. Stewart Woodman and Lenny Russo With all due respect, the feud between Stewart "Shefzilla" Woodman and Lenny Russo takes the cake in restaurant fights. Two of the most respected and outspoken chefs exchanged figurative blows last year in the blogosphere about restaurant ratings in the Twin Cities.

Trouble started when Russo's recently relocated restaurant, Heartland, received 4 out of 4 stars by the Star Tribune's Rick Nelson and 97 points out of 100 on MSP Magazine's Restaurant Rater. Woodman declared with cynicism and plenty of irony that it must be an out-of-the-world restaurant to receive such high marks. Then, he wrote a mock review of his experience at Heartland:

The first course was an oxtail soup, but no, not an ordinary oxtail soup. It was as if the contents from an emptied sink had been swirled in a bowl with some warm water, with only a simple crouton to garnish. As I ate it I was sure that it must have been similar to the soup served in Soviet forced work camps--salt would have surely ruined it, clearly knowing this he had added none. It was equal parts Fear Factor and Survivor, with it's fatty porridgy blandness starring back at me, but it was 100% Brilliant.

Russo responded calmly, saying that Woodman should leave criticizing to critics.

We haven't heard much about what happened after all this hoopla, especially since the Zilla himself is busy with the reopening of Heidi's. But for those of us who take guilty pleasure in hearing restaurant gossip, a new development in this story is much anticipated.

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