The retail chain made famous by the Soup Nazi more than 15 years ago on “Seinfeld” is now simmering in a savory and textured legal battle, The Post has learned.
Al Yeganeh, the eccentric New York soup maker whose autocratic style inspired the popular sitcom character — and gave rise to the “No soup for you!” catchphrase — is caught in the middle of a bitter courtroom feud pitting the current owners of “The Original Soup Man” chain against the creditors of the bankrupt Soup Kitchen International, the operation that originally owned the trademark.
The creditors of the now-bankrupt company claim they were forced out of business by a group of the owners who, after spilling $20 million in red ink over four years, formed a new outfit and bought at bargain-basement prices all the key rights and assets from the original concern, including Yeganeh’s recipes.
Al Yeganeh (above) who started it all — first as inspiration for the Soup Nazi character on “Seinfeld”. The chain of soup stores founded by Yeganeh is embroiled in a nasty legal dispute over a licensing contract." title="HOT TOPIC:That’s Al Yeganeh (above) who started it all — first as inspiration for the Soup Nazi character on “Seinfeld”. The chain of soup stores founded by Yeganeh is embroiled in a nasty legal dispute over a licensing contract." width="300" height="300" src="/rw/nypost/2012/06/22/business/web_photos/22.1f029.soup1.c--300x300.jpg" />
HOT TOPIC:That’s Al Yeganeh (above) who started it all — first as inspiration for the Soup Nazi character on “Seinfeld”. The chain of soup stores founded by Yeganeh is embroiled in a nasty legal dispute over a licensing contract.
At the center of the dispute is Sebastian “Seb” Rametta, who was convicted of securities fraud in 2001 on a separate matter. Rametta, who first convinced Yeganeh in 2004 to license the brand to SKI, now helps run Soup Man, according to a lawsuit filed by SKI’s court-appointed trustee.
Rametta, who previously ran Ranch 1, a once-thriving grilled chicken fast-food chain, mismanaged SKI and improperly “dominated and controlled” the company, the trustee, Robert Geltzer, said in the complaint.
Geltzer alleges Rametta then improperly seized the licensing deal from SKI in 2009. The transfer was made without the knowledge of some SKI shareholders, according to court papers.
Rametta, through Soup Man, denies the allegations.
The two sides have been ordered to mediate the matter and are scheduled for a meeting next week.
The creditors’ group includes John Bello, creator of the SoBe brand of drinks, who was chairman and CEO of SKI a few years before it filed for bankruptcy in 2010.
Bob Bertrand, chief financial officer of Soup Man and a named defendant in the case, told The Post that SKI shareholders received $100,000 cash for the licensing agreement, which he deemed sufficient “for a company that had negative cash flow.”
The new company — which recently signed former “Seinfeld” co-star Jason Alexander as a spokesman for the chain, where large soups sell for up to $9 — also took on $3.6 million in SKI debt and gave SKI the licensing rights to Mexico, Bertrand said.
Bertrand told The Post he is confident the matter will “get settled next week or the week after,” and said he does not believe Soup Man’s ownership of the licenses are at risk.
Publicly-traded Soup Man operates 10 locations in New York state, with five others dotted across the country, according to the company’s website.
But Bill McCreery, one of SKI’s disgruntled shareholders and a former officer, says he can’t see how the licensing agreement can remain with the Staten Island-based Soup Man, “even if they write a check for a gazillion dollars.”
Meanwhile, Yeganeh’s position on the matter remains a mystery.
People associated with SKI said the eccentric chef stepped away from Rametta years ago and has refused to help his new company promote its products.
Bertrand said Yeganeh “doesn’t like controversy so he’s laying low.” The Soup Man CFO, perhaps looking to downplay any possible schism between Yeganeh and the Soup Man brass, said Yeganeh has been “to every opening when we opened a new restaurant.”
However, Yeganeh, who sold his 55th Street shop in 2010 after 26 years, was a no-show at the store’s relaunch two years ago — much to the disappointment of soup-loving New Yorkers, according to press reports at the time.
Soup Man shares closed yesterday down 2.4 percent at 83 cents, and are down 16 percent this year.
Yeganeh, whose “Seinfeld” counterpart would famously shout “No soup for you!” to anyone who violated his strict rules on ordering his soups, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
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