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Investor Sues Tiffani Faison, Alleging Misuse of COVID Funds and Other Financial Missteps

The chef denies the allegations

A woman wearing a blue apron over a blue button-down shirt smiles inside a restaurant with a chandelier, dark wood, and blue accents.
Tiffani Faison.
Aram Boghosian/Big Heart Hospitality
Erika Adams is the editor of Eater Boston.

Celebrity chef and restaurateur Tiffani Faison is being sued by one of her investors over alleged financial mismanagement at her Fenway restaurants, the Boston Globe reports.

Real estate developer Robert Weintraub — who invested $100,000 in Faison’s barbecue spot Sweet Cheeks and, later, another $100,000 in her now-closed Italian restaurant Orfano — alleges in the lawsuit that Faison engaged in a number of financial missteps over the past several years.

Faison denied the allegations in a statement to the Globe, accusing Weintraub and a “close business associate” of “misogynistic and bullying tactics” during the years that she’s worked with them. “The clear intention is to damage my character and my career,” Faison told the Globe. (Faison’s team did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.)

The allegations are outlined in a few main claims: First, in 2017, the lawsuit details that Faison took out a loan to the tune of $1.5 million to buy out her business partner Brian Lesser. According to the filing, Faison allegedly used income and operating capital from Sweet Cheeks to pay off the loan while assuming Lesser’s full ownership stake herself instead of redistributing the stake proportionally among Sweet Cheeks’ investors, including Weintraub.

The suit also alleges that Faison was not transparent with investors about how she used the roughly $6.5 million that she was granted in pandemic relief funds for Sweet Cheeks and Orfano. Weintraub accuses the chef of using the money “to over-pay certain employees — including possibly herself, her wife, and other parties with whom she shared a familial or personal relationship,” according to the lawsuit. There is no documented evidence of such dealings included in the lawsuit, which was reviewed by Eater. Faison’s ex-wife, Kelly Walsh, whom she split from in 2019, denied to the Globe that she had received any funds.

Lastly, the suit claims that Faison has not been distributing regular reports with her investors outlining business financials, including an accounting of Faison’s compensation, details on the way that federal relief funds were spent at Sweet Cheeks and Orfano, and a final wrap-up of Orfano’s financials and distribution of assets.

The lawsuit is calling for a trial in an attempt to get Faison to hand over a share of Lesser’s former ownership stake to Weintraub, as well as submit financial accounts for both Sweet Cheeks and Orfano, and pay an unspecified amount of damages to Weintraub that is “exceeding sufficient to compensate him for the damages caused by Faison.”

Known nationally for her turn on Top Chef and regular Food Network appearances, Faison is a well-recognized figure in Boston’s restaurant scene. Her restaurants, including Sweet Cheeks, have won numerous accolades. She has long been a supporter of LGBTQ rights and dismantling sexism in restaurants, and she has also spoken out previously to the Globe about how important financial transparency is in the workplace.