Black Tap Burgers Hit With $25 Million Lawsuit

Black Tap Burgers' bonkers milkshakes are a testament to the power of social media. By topping already enormous milkshakes with candy, Easter Peeps, and whole slices of birthday cake, the company became an Instagram sensation. Everybody wanted a photo of one of those comically over-the-top milkshakes for social media, and the restaurant had lines out the door. Now there are multiple Black Tap locations in Las Vegas, New York, and even one opening in Disneyland. But the owners of Black Tap have recently been hit with a $25 million lawsuit alleging that they unfairly cut three collaborators out of their share of the brand.

Eater New York's Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya broke the news that the owners of 248 Hospitality, which operates the Meatpacking District location of Black Tap Burgers & Beer on 14th Street in New York, have filed a lawsuit alleging that they helped build the Black Tap brand in collaboration with Black Tap owners Joseph Isidori and Christopher Barish. According to the lawsuit, they say they were unfairly cut out of the brand's ownership and expansion, and they're suing for half the Black Tap brand and more than $25 million in damages.

The lawsuit alleges that Isidori and Barish opened the original Black Tap location, a luncheonette on Broome St., but were dissatisfied with the lack of space and publicity. Evan Frost, a friend of Isidori's who the suit alleges had helped with the original location, introduced them to Angelo Nicastro and Elenodoros Theodoulou, who owned a bigger restaurant at 248 West 14th St in the Meatpacking District. According to the lawsuit, they decided to turn the 14th Street restaurant into a second Black Tap restaurant.

"At the time of this meeting, the Broome Street Luncheonette did not have any distinct identity," the lawsuit alleges. "Accordingly, the name 'Black Tap' was nothing more than a name and there was no image, concept, or intellectual property value associated with it."

To build the brand and publicize the restaurant, the lawsuit says Isidori, Barish, Frost, Nicastro, and Theodoulou enlisted a PR agency that had previously been used by Isidori and Barish for the Broome St. location, and the fees for the agency were split by the Broome St. location and the 14th St. Location. According to the lawsuit, the PR firm "utilized bloggers as part of this campaign by inviting these bloggers individually or parties with up to 75 or 100 guests, all of whom had at least 100,000 followers on Instagram." The suit alleges that the 14th Street location paid for all those bloggers' checks, and that through those efforts, Black Tap shot up to 250,000 followers on Instagram, from the 4,500 the lawsuit alleges the brand had before the 14th Street location opened.

After that success and the fame of those Instagrammable milkshakes, the lawsuit alleges that Isidori and Barish secretly formed two companies and trademarked "Black Tap" and "Crazy Milkshakes," and started pursuing further expansion without Frost, Nicastro, and Theodoulou.

Those three are now suing on the grounds that made "significant contributions in the growth and development of the Black Tap Brand," including financing the 14th Street location and the marketing and promotion that made Black Tap a famous name.

The lawsuit alleges that "Defendants repeatedly told Plaintiffs that they were full partners in the Black Tap Brand and would share in profits as the Black Tap Brand grew and expanded while knowing that they had no intention of sharing the profits with Plaintiffs." They are seeking $20 million in punitive damages, compensatory damages in excess of $5 million, and a judgment that they own at least 50 percent of the Black Tap name, trademarks, and brand.

A spokesperson for Black Tap reportedly told Eater New York that the lawsuit is baseless, and the plaintiffs' involvement with Black Tap was limited to an oral license to operate the one Black Tap restaurant, not an ownership in the brand known for making some of the world's freakiest milkshakes.