Andrew Chiou and Masako Morishita in February 2017. Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

Back in February 2017, Masako Morishita and her then boyfriend, Andrew Chiou, were operating a Japanese catering company called M’s Kitchen and looking to open a brick and mortar restaurant together. A year later, Momo Yakitori opened in Woodridge serving Japanese-style skewers of grilled chicken, beef, and vegetables. 

Then one day in January 2019, Momo Yakitori posted a message on its Facebook page announcing that Morishita was no longer with the restaurant. The post has since been deleted, but a screen shot obtained by City Paper reads, “Please join us in saying goodbye to Masako who is leaving Momo Yakitori to pursue other interests.” 

Now Morishita is suing both Chiou and Momo Yakitori, alleging she was never paid—not minimum wage, not overtime wages, not reimbursements for transportation expenses nor money spent buying supplies and ingredients, according to the complaint filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on May 1. 

The complaint says Morishita was employed by Momo Yakitori as everything from a cook to a server from January 2018 to January 2019. She typically worked five to 10 hours per day, six days a week, according to the complaint, which characterizes Morishita’s employment status as non-exempt. Non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime wages for any hours worked over 40 hours per week. 

Also according to the complaint, Chiou agreed to reimburse Morishita for her transportation costs to the restaurant, which the complaint says totals $3,000. The complaint also says Morishita was not repaid for $1,055 she spent on groceries and other supplies for the restaurant. She is looking to recover money spent on these expenses, plus $20,615.89 in unpaid wages. A statute allows Morishita to ask for triple the actual compensatory damages. Therefore, Morishita is suing for $61,847.67 in unpaid wages. 

“Momo Yakitori values our staff very much and takes fair and timely compensation seriously,” Chiou tells City Paper. “The lawsuit reflects a personal romantic dispute being handled poorly by Masako who was never an employee of Momo Yakitori.”

In the media, Chiou and Morishita were repeatedly identified as business partnersco-founders, or chef-owners

Finally, the complaint says that Chiou asserted in April that any wages owed to Morishita were offset by his role helping to grow Morishita’s catering business, M’s Kitchen. It says he provided “consulting,” “culinary,” “event,” and “event management services.” But the complaint says Chiou never said or wrote down that he was charging her for these services, nor did he issue any invoices.

Morishita’s attorney, Eric Siegel, tells City Paper the “lawsuit speaks for itself,” adding only, “Do I think she has a strong case? Yes. I do.”