Celebrity-fueled burger chain Wahlburgers is tangled up in another lawsuit, and this time it’s coming from inside the house. The brothers Wahlberg — Mark, Donnie, and the decidedly less famous Paul — are being sued by their business partners, who claim they were unfairly shut out of the chain’s big-time expansion plans, according to the Boston Globe.
The suit, filed earlier this week by Billy Leonard and Edward St. Croix in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, alleges that the Wahlberg brothers “stole the most valuable franchise opportunities for themselves” after Leonard and St. Croix played an instrumental role in developing the restaurant’s first location, which opened just outside Boston back in 2011.
The lawsuit claims St. Croix came up with the idea for Wahlburgers, and that the idea to do a reality show — A&E’s Wahlburgers, which is now in its seventh season — was also his. Leonard, a long-time friend of the family, was a minority owner in the first location and was also featured on the TV show. The duo say they were pushed out of management roles and excluded from massive franchising plans that will see as many as 180 Wahlburgers stores open in the next five years, including 20 in the Middle East.
The suit also says the brothers have “dysfunctional” relationships that made getting the business started difficult, and that Mark Wahlberg once physically threatened Leonard on the set of the reality show.
Unsurprisingly, Wahlburgers disputes these claims, saying in a statement issued yesterday, “It’s obvious that this lawsuit, with its unbridled litany of false and misleading claims, was concocted to further the plaintiffs’ own personal agendas at the expense of the truth, the Wahlberg family and other investors.”
Last year Wahlburgers was hit with a class-action lawsuit from five employees, claiming that a Coney Island franchise was engaging in wage theft by refusing to pay workers overtime, among other labor law violations. The suit also alleged that the Wahlberg brothers had been made aware of the problems, but did nothing to resolve them.