The owners of a new restaurant called Odd Duck proposed for West Park Promenade in Billings have been sued over a dispute between its head chef and the restaurant where he previously worked.
The chef, Travis Stimpson, was fired from Local Kitchen and Bar after allegedly sending sexually suggestive text messages to a 15-year-old employee of the restaurant.
The texts were discovered last April by the boy’s father, who shared them with the restaurant’s owners, John Heenan and his wife Meagen.
The next morning, the Heenans reported the text messages to police and fired Stimpson. It's unclear if police considered the texts a criminal matter.
John Heenan is a Billings attorney who has also run for statewide public office. He filed the lawsuit on behalf of his restaurant.
In the texts, the 41-year-old Stimpson revealed to the boy, who worked as Stimpson’s subordinate, that he had a crush on him, the lawsuit alleges. Stimpson also allegedly asked the boy if he’s a good kisser and asked him what his bedtime was and if he was willing to sneak out of his house.
Many of the texts were flirtatious and sexual.
“You do have a really cute butt, in case you haven’t been told that,” read one text.
Another text asked, “Are you a wraparound kind of cuddler, or a lay by your side kind of cuddler?”
Along with Stimpson, the lawsuit also names Odd Duck principals Jamey Eisenbarth, Ronald Eisenbarth and Don Christensen.
Odd Duck is planned to be a casual fine dining restaurant at 1603 Grand Ave., in West Park Promenade. The restaurant would offer “global comfort food with local roots,” Stimpson told The Billings Gazette in a January article about the proposed restaurant.
A temporary restraining order prohibiting the Odd Duck restaurant from opening was issued Jan. 31 by Yellowstone County District Judge Michael Moses. One of the disputes in the lawsuit is a non-compete clause that apparently prevents Stimson from working for another restaurant in Yellowstone County for five years after leaving Local Kitchen and Bar.
On Friday, Moses continued the prohibition against the restaurant opening until other legal matters in the lawsuit can be resolved. Construction of the restaurant was scheduled to begin in mid-March. The judge also declined a request by Odd Duck's attorneys to have the lawsuit sealed.
The suit seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney fees and costs to be determined at trial, and a permanent injunction preventing the four defendants with going forward with the Odd Duck restaurant.
According to the lawsuit, after firing Stimpson, defendant Jamey Eisenbarth sent Heenan a text message asking if he was willing to sell Local Kitchen and Bar so Stimpson could assume full control of the restaurant. Heenan responded that he was unwilling “to put employees in harm’s way,” the suit states.
In the text, Eisenbarth calls Heenan a “crooked business owner.”
“Travis is a damn good friend of mine and I’ve hired him one hell of an attorney and am assisting him to grow a spine against asses like you,” the text continued, according to the suit.
“You better get your game on because we’re coming for you,” he tells the Heenans.