Oakland pitmaster Matt Horn settles lawsuit with former business partner

Matt Horn, owner of famed Oakland restaurant Horn Barbecue, has settled a lawsuit brought by former business partner David Kyuman Kim over allegations that Kim worked for free and was wrongfully put out of business.

An attorney for Kim, who is executive director of the Stanford Center for Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity, confirmed to SFGATE that the lawsuit has been settled. A representative for Horn said the lawsuit was settled on October 12 but declined to comment further. Details of the lawsuit were first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. (SFGATE and the San Francisco Chronicle are both owned by Hearst but operate independently.)

The lawsuit isn’t the only allegation of financial troubles Horn has taken on recently. Last week, SFGATE reported on other money issues the restaurateur was facing, including unpaid bills and undeliverable paychecks. Horn addressed some of the concerns raised in the story in a Facebook post published earlier this week.

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In Kim’s complaint, filed in September 2021 and recently reviewed by SFGATE, the former business partner alleges that after meeting Horn in April 2019, he became an integral part of Horn’s then-budding business plans by “helping with public relations and… helped bring in investors.” Kim also alleges that he invested $3,000 in exchange for a 5% stake in Horn Hospitality Group and that he was named president of the company and has worked many hours without pay. He was eventually made a “low-ball salary offer” by Horn, which the complaint says he declined. In June 2021, Kim was demoted from his position, he claims, and then ousted from the business altogether.

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Horn” didn’t pay [Kim] for his work as President upon his departure or at any other time, and also failed to reimburse reasonably necessary business expenses,” the lawsuit reads.

The Horn Barbecue opened in October 2020. At an event for journalists a few days before the opening, a reporter from SFGATE spoke to Kim about the restaurant; At the time he was representing himself as “President of the Horn Hospitality Group”. A year later, SFGATE published another story about Horn related to his work with Kim. Shortly after the release, a representative for Horn emailed the reporter that Kim was no longer part of the Horn Hospitality Group and that he was “never formally the president of Horn Hospitality.” The representative did not respond to a request for more information.

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The complaint makes it clear that Kim believes his role in Horn’s success was significant. “It’s hard to imagine how the Horn Barbecue restaurant would ever have opened — let alone in the middle of a pandemic — without plaintiff Kim’s hard work and persistence,” the complaint reads.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 3:10pm on October 20 to include the date of the most recent settlement. SFGATE reporter Susana Guerrero contributed to this story.

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