Frank is pained to hear detractors chipping away at the legend of victualler-about-town Ion Aimers, mentor and angel investor to countless Ottawa chefs.
Ottawa Petfinder foodie Peter Hum struck the properly reverent tone in a profile of the peripatetic grubstaker last October:
“The veteran Ottawa restaurateur is just 57, and maybe he could have chosen to stop working five years ago, after he struck it rich. In fact, after selling his six Works gourmet burgers eateries to an Oakville company for $10 million, Aimers said that he had no great ambitions beyond keeping his hand in the hospitality business.
“And yet, this year alone has seen the opening of four new Ottawa venues for which Aimers is a partner. In The Glebe, there are two appealing restaurants, The Pomeroy House and The Rowan. There’s the high-end New Edinburgh butchery Muckleston & Brockwell (the latter is Aimers’ middle name). There’s the just-opened Arlington 5 coffee house in Centretown, which is beside the always popular, not-yet-two-year-old Wilf & Ada’s diner, for which Aimers is also a partner.
“That’s not to mention the stakes that Aimers has in Ottawa’s two ZaZaZa pizza joints and in the esteemed Fraser Café in New Edinburgh. That neighbourhood is Aimers’ home base in the city, given that he moved there two years ago after living for more than two decades in an old Navan farmhouse where he and his former wife raised two sons.”
Aimers was adamant it’s Not About the Money.
“One of the things I get great enjoyment out of personally is helping young people achieve their goals a little earlier than they might,’ he told Hum. “Hopefully, there’s a bit of mentorship involved.”
Granted, there’s been the odd bone in the vichyssoise: Ion’s ill-fated investment in Steve Bleeker‘s MyMusic (Franks passim) and the flameout of ZaZaZa.
Still, Aimers tends to land sunny side up. While the Beechwood Avenue ZaZaZa sits vacant to this day, its Glebe location transitioned smoothly to The Rowan and the Hintonburg outlet transformed to a second location of Ola Cocina, although that expansion did not end well for the tacqueria’s founder, Donna Chevrier.
Rewind to 2015. The Hintonburg ZaZaZa, located across the street from the same-but-better Tennesy Willems, is getting whipped in the pizza war. As the merde deepens, an orderly retreat seems a tricky prospect for Ion, encumbered as it was with an onerous bank loan and lease on the premises.
Help was not far away. Ion, a regular at Ola Cocina in Vanier, casually mentions to Chevrier that he’s pulling the plug on ZaZaZa. She asks if he’d thought of going Mexican at his Hintonburg loser and–“ay caramba”–they were suddenly business partners.
Ion would provide the location and accounting wizardry, Donna the Ola Cocina name, concept and recipes – plus a sum not unadjacent to $50,000, which would cover loan payments, take on some ZaZaZa staff and convert the restaurant. She called in all available markers to scrape up the seed money.
Donna was also responsible for the day-to-day operations. But a funny thing happened on the way to the payoff. In September, only four months after their grand opening, Donna showed up at the new Ola to discover the locks had been changed. Ion had staged a coup, seized total control and Donna was yesterday’s tamales.
Much-pissed, she jumped on the blower to her lawyer, only to be told that the cost of a lawsuit would be prohibitive and it would take years to get through the courts against the deep-pocketed Ion. So she’s had to suck it up and return to running her original joint and share the Ola Cocina name with Ion the Angel Investor™.
Meanwhile, in New Edinburgh, yet another beneficiary of Aimer’s business acumen is suing after allegedly being squeezed out of Mucklestone and Brockwell.
Dawn Collings claims she entered into a partnership to open the chi-chi meat emporium with Aimers and butcher Andy Mucklestone in January 2015. In her statement of claim, Collings says her $5,000 buy-in and the “minimum 840 hours” put into the business and marketing plans, branding, PR and product research, etc., until her ouster in September entitle her to 25 per cent of the business and its profits.
Her briefs carried by Katie Black (Caza Saikaley), Collings also seeks punitive and exemplary damages ($100,000 from Aimers, $50,000 from Mucklestone) and another $100,000 for mental and emotional distress with a side of sexual harassment.
“The day the Plaintiff signed the Joint Venture Agreement, the Defendant, Ion Aimers, sent the plaintiff a text stating that they would be ‘partners with benefits’ and how great it would be.”
Collings claims Aimers “unsolicited and unwanted sexual advances…continued almost daily,” and that he “made the Plaintiff feel that her job and financial security were tied to him, such that she could not protest his treatment of her.”
The toxicity, she claims, boiled over September 11, 2015: “In front of customers, the Defendant I. Aimers publicly stated to the Plaintiff she was ‘grumpy’ and ‘in need of a good fucking.’”
“Instead of pretending to dismiss the Defendant I. Aimers’ sexual harassment, the Plaintiff gestured for him to stop with a look of disgust.”
Three days later, she claims, Aimers and Muckleston summoned her to a meeting, told her she was out and had her sign a document “under duress, without reading or understanding its contents as she was in a state of shock.”
In their statement of defence, Aimers and Mucklestone deny Collings was ever a partner, note that they returned her $5,000, and point to a clause in the Letter of Intent Regarding a Future Shareholder’s Agreement that anyone asked to leave in the first 12 months forfeited any shares.
The sex harassment allegations? “Frivolous and vexatious,” quoth the defendants, through legalist Joseph Jebreen (Jabreen & Walsh).
“The Defendant Aimers also specifically denies any harassment of the Plaintiff, sexual or otherwise. Any comments that Aimers made of a personal nature were made in the context of a former romantic relationship with the Plaintiff and a history of accepting the Plaintiff’s occasional sexual advances during the spring and summer of 2015.”
Frank contacted Aimers for comment, but answers came there none.