Chef in £6m court fight with mum over property empire and restaurant
Chef is locked in bitter £6m court fight with his elderly mother over ownership of property empire and family-owned Fitzrovia restaurant voted Britain’s top takeaway
- Ekkachi Somboonsam is embroiled in a bitter row with mother Vanida Walker
A chef and his elderly mother are locked in a £6million court fight over who owns their family-run restaurant once voted Britain’s top takeaway.
Thai Metro, near the British Museum in central London, is at the centre of a bitter row between Ekkachi Somboonsam, 50, and his 76-year-old mother Vanida Walker.
The pair are also arguing about a £1million flat in Bloomsbury Mansions, the Charlotte Street property where Thai Metro operates, and two premises in Rotherhithe and Canning Town.
Mr Somboonsam moved to the UK aged five and, after working as a kitchen porter and cook, says he founded the restaurant in Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia, which opened its doors in 2000 and beat 12,000 restaurants in the UK to win the title ‘Britain’s most-loved takeaway’ in 2017.
The success of the business allowed the family to open a second restaurant and build a multimillion pound property portfolio.
But now the chef is being sued at the High Court by his mother, who claims the £6million business and properties are hers and that, rather than being the boss, he was always just an ’employee.’
Ekkachi Somboonsam, 50, pictured outside the High Court – he is in a dispute with his mother
Vanida Walker outside the High Court following the hearing – she claims the business is hers
The court heard Mrs Walker moved to London from Thailand in 1973, working as a cleaner and then setting up her own janitorial business.
She then moved into catering, providing Thai food at outdoor music festivals including Glastonbury and running a restaurant in Lewisham, Judge Malcolm Davis-White KC was told.
The Thai Metro restaurant was set up 23 years ago and went on to become a major success, scooping the ‘Britain’s Most-Loved Takeaway’ award due to its five-star ratings and ‘unprecedented return rate.’
Among its most popular dishes are its £10.80 pineapple fried rice and £10.20 drunken fried rice, which Mr Somboonsam has previously called a ‘great hangover cure.’
But now, the mother and son are ‘diametrically opposed’ on who owns the businesses through which the restaurant has been run, the premises where it is based and a string of other properties.
Mr Somboonsam claims the restaurant business was his from the start and that his mother only ‘occasionally helped out.’ But she claims the opposite – that it is hers and he has only ever been an ’employee.’
‘Mrs Walker’s case is that she invested the money and took the lease in her own name because this was her business,’ said her barrister, Timothy Cowen.
‘Mr Somboonsam was employed in the business with front of house duties and to assist with paperwork.’
He added: ‘She claims that the businesses are hers and that Mr Somboonsam worked for her.’
The Thai Metro restaurant was set up 23 years ago and went on to become a major success, scooping the ‘Britain’s Most-Loved Takeaway’ award due to its five-star ratings and ‘unprecedented return rate’ (stock photo)
But for Mr Somboonsam, barrister Robert Strang insisted that his client was ‘the founder and the owner of the business.’
Although the shares in the business were put into his mother’s name, that had only been because Mr Somboonsam was separated from his first wife and wanted to prevent her making a claim, he said.
‘He says that Mrs Walker agreed to hold the shares on his behalf and that this was consistent with their common understanding that he was the owner of the Thai Metro restaurant business,’ said the barrister.
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‘Mr Somboonsam says that he is and always was the beneficial owner and that this was agreed and understood by Mrs Walker when he incorporated the business.
‘With her agreement, he made Mrs Walker the legal owner…so that his wife, from whom he was separated, would not seek to claim a share in his business.
‘Mrs Walker agreed to hold the shares on trust, with the common understanding that the restaurant business belonged to Mr Somboonsam.’
‘Mr Somboonsam will point to objective facts and circumstances which support his account. He was the founder and the owner of the business,’ he added.
The pair are also arguing about a £1m-plus flat in Bloomsbury Mansions, the Charlotte Street property where Thai Metro operates, and two premises in Rotherhithe and Canning Town.
The properties were mostly bought in Mr Somboonsam’s name, but his mother claims they are hers, that she paid the money and they only went in her son’s name because he convinced her she was ‘too old’ to get a mortgage.
But Mr Somboonsam’s barrister Mr Strang said: ‘He bought those properties in his name for his benefit.
‘Mrs Walker knew and understood this. Where she made the downpayment, it was on his behalf and with money that she owed to him.
‘Otherwise, he made the downpayment.’
Speaking after receiving the 2017 award, following a competition organised by online delivery company Hungryhouse, Mr Somboonsam said: ‘Before I started the business, I thought Thai food was unnecessarily overpriced.
‘So we have tried to keep our prices as low as possible. We rely on repeat customers and if we can keep our prices down, people will keep coming back.
‘It’s the food that I’ve grown up with and it’s lovely to be acknowledged. It means a lot that people are giving us great feedback and to know that we are doing something right.
‘We are a family-owned business, so to receive both this recognition and exposure is an unbelievable honour. We pride ourselves on serving up delicious Thai cuisine at good value, all made with high quality ingredients.’
Following an eight-day trial this week and last, the judge will give his ruling on the case at a later date.
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