Business

Investor sues failed Suzanne Somers' meal-prep business

A Louisville investor in Suzanne Somers' failed do-it-yourself meal prep business has sued the actress and the company's leader, John Y. Brown Jr., seeking to recover $400,000.

John Shannon Bouchillon filed the suit in Fayette Circuit Court earlier this month, alleging the two led him to think there was a deal in place for the future of Suzanne's Kitchen.

"In reality, there was no agreement that had been reached ... and ultimately Suzanne pulled the plug on the whole arrangement," W. Craig Robertson III, attorney for Bouchillon, told the Herald-Leader on Monday. "That left everybody holding the bag, including my client."

The suit says Brown and the company representing Somers never came to an agreement about the stores, despite holding a grand opening in Lexington in November 2006 and selling franchise rights. And Brown and Somers were "bickering" for a year until the whole idea fell apart and the flagship Lexington store in Tates Creek Centre closed after just a few months.

Brown told the Herald-Leader on Monday that there was indeed a binding contract between the two and Bouchillon was "involved in every business decision we made." He questioned why Bouchillon chose to sue well over a year after the store closed.

The store offered ingredients for a number of meals, and customers assembled the dishes, then froze them until time to bake and serve. Somers, who starred in the 1970s and '80s hit television program Three's Company, developed the recipes.

Brown, a former Kentucky governor and mastermind behind branding Col. Harland Sanders as the face of Kentucky Fried Chicken, said Monday that the company closed because the prep-meal industry concept just isn't developed enough.

"It could have been Col. Sanders on that building, and it wouldn't have worked," Brown said.

According to the suit, Brown "agreed to personally guarantee" $150,000 of the $400,000 invested by Bouchillon, who is involved in the Just Fresh restaurant in Louisville.

The startup fell apart, the suit said, in late February 2007 when the company representing Somers told Brown that it would no longer support the Suzanne's Kitchen concept. It also prohibited him from using the name or logo of Suzanne's Kitchen, as well as anything associated with Somers' likeness.

Brown said Monday that he decided to close the business and then Somers' company wrote the letter after that. He added "everything was done legally and properly."

Somers' company could not be reached for comment and has not yet responded to the suit, Robertson said.

Brown responded in a letter the next month, the suit said, claiming that Somers' company had altered the store's concept to a business that would offer only organic foods, which made the venture "impractical and uneconomical." The letter also reportedly threatened a suit of $5 million to $10 million.

Robertson said Bouchillon wasn't told about any of the disagreements as they happened.

"They shouldn't have been going around and acting as if they (had an agreement)," he said.

The former governor said Bouchillon still owns a stake in whatever concept might ultimately come of the failed Suzanne's Kitchen experiment. Brown said he has since signed former White House chef Walter Scheib to a contract to potentially explore another attempt at the business, but "we're not sure we're going to use him unless we find the right concept."

But Robertson said his client figures his investment is gone and that despite Brown's spoken intentions to launch a new brand, " I don't think we're going to hold our breath."

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