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A Michelin Three-Star Chef Plots His Comeback

Last year, Curtis Duffy lost his dream restaurant amid acrimony with his investor, but he's ready to get back in the game.

curtis duffy grace Photo: courtesy Grace

It was less than a year ago that it all came crashing down at one of America’s best restaurants. Seemingly out of the blue, Michelin three-star Grace’s talented young chef walked out. A few days later, the staff joined him, forcing the lone investor Michael Olszewski to shutter the Chicago restaurant. An ignominious end for just the second restaurant in the Windy City holding that designation, and one of only 14 in America to earn Michelin’s highest honor.

In the aftermath, the acrimony behind the scenes became public as lawsuits and countersuits flew. In the first one filed, Duffy and Grace’s former general manager Michael Muser, tried to get out from under a noncompete clause that prevented them from working in Chicago or the surrounding suburbs for 18 months. Olszewski sued Duffy and Muser, accusing them of unexcused absences and using expensive ingredients purchased through the Grace for events not associated with the restaurant.

Duffy and Muser’s suit to void the noncompete clause arguing that they couldn’t compete with a closed restaurant was dismissed in July. On the surface, it appeared they lost, but in actuality, the judge let them start doing the work in the lead-up to a restaurant like gathering investors and looking for a space. And according to the Chicago Tribune, Duffy and Muser have teamed up again and nailed down a location.

Their new restaurant, for which they haven’t revealed a name or menu details, will be less than a mile west of Grace, and just around the corner from Michelin two-star restaurant Smyth.

Previously to Grace, Duffy and Muser worked together at Avenues in Chicago, rising to the level of two Michelin stars. And before that Duffy had worked at legendary fine dining restaurants Alinea and Charlie Trotter’s, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him create another restaurant that strives for Michelin stars.

As for Olzewski, though his first foray into the restaurant industry ended in Grace’s spectacular implosion, he’s decided to not give up on the business. He’s backing Grace’s former pastry chef Mari Katsumura’s Japanese-French restaurant Yūgen, which is poised to open this fall in the old Grace space.

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