One of the most common stories in the restaurant business is also one of the most painful to watch: A starry-eyed chef with kitchen chops and a brilliant idea meets an investor, but in the course of signing papers accidentally signs his or her life away. Jasmine Moy has seen it happen—over and over again. “What I try to coach my clients on the most is to have a little bit of foresight,” says the lawyer, who specializes in protecting restaurateurs and chefs.
Without proper business training from culinary school, many chefs aren't equipped to spot a bad contract—even those who were groomed to be the brightest culinary stars. Predatory investors, poorly drawn-up contracts (“usually by somebody’s uncle”), and intellectual-property disputes are all part of game. “Everything is easy when the money is flowing,” Moy says of the restaurant industry. Her job is to make sure that the chef and restaurateur don’t end up on the losing side of a court case if that all goes sideways.
As a restaurant lover and mediocre cook, Moy dabbled in freelance food writing when she burned out of her corporate law gig. "I hated the work. The upside was that I had a lot of extra cash to spend." Moy became a regular at some of the city's most established restaurants, and began forming relationships with chefs and owners. It was only after a fateful conversation with 20-year law veteran Phil Colicchio—chef Tom Colicciho's cousin—that she was able to connect the dots: Why not turn to restaurant law?
"He found out I was a lawyer and asked, 'Why are you doing this food writing? Why aren't you a restaurant lawyer?' I didn't even know that was a thing!"
Moy focuses on helping chefs and restaurateurs start restaurants: negotiating leases, putting together business plans, and creating employment agreements. Her "institutional knowledge" makes her especially appealing to chefs and hoteliers who entrust her to understand the industry on a deeper level.
“I’ve seen a lot of restaurants fail and I’ve seen a lot of restaurants succeed. There are so many things I know based on my years of experience in the industry.” That includes referring them HR people, PR people, and even specialists in wage-an-hour laws: “If you have a small business, and you’re trying to do this on your own, you’re going to mess up.”
Between chatting up new clients and writing up agreements that will someday save a naïve chef from an incompatible partner, Moy—who runs her own practice and can be found at RestaurantLawyer.NYC—sat down to tell us exactly what kind of lawyer restaurants need, and why.