R.J. Cooper to remain at Rogue 24 for ‘foreseeable future’

Despite repeated warnings to partners and investors that he planned to leave Rogue 24 at the end of January, James Beard Award-winning chef R.J. Cooper will remain with the embattled restaurant for the immediate future, co-owner Hilda Staples said Friday afternoon.

R.J. Cooper will remain in the kitchen at Rogue 24. (Dayna Smith for The Washington Post).
R.J. Cooper will remain in the kitchen at Rogue 24. (Dayna Smith for The Washington Post).

Cooper and Staples are currently locked in a legal battle over a $300,000 bank loan, which Staples says she personally secured for Rogue 24 with the understanding the business would pay her back. Last fall, Staples filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Cooper, his wife, Judith, and the business, claiming the defendants had failed to repay the note. Cooper filed a countersuit in December in which he alleged Staples, among other things, secured the loan and made payments on it without permission from Rogue 24's other managing partners, namely the chef and his wife.

The suit and countersuit remain open.

"The disputes are still ongoing, and he’ll be here for the foreseeable future," Staples said Friday. She could not discuss any other plans for the restaurant. She did assure diners that Cooper would be in the kitchen for reservations currently on the books.

In the past few months, the chef has sent repeated e-mails to partners and investors claiming he would walk away from Rogue 24. In a November e-mail, for example, Cooper wrote that if "our dispute with Mrs. Staples is not resolved by December 31, 2013, then come January 31, 2014, I will resign as the executive chef of Rogue 24 and daily manager." Cooper reiterated his imminent resignation with e-mails in December and again on Monday, Staples said.

In the Monday e-mail, Cooper said he would leave at the end of service on Saturday, Staples said. Cooper did not return calls for comment.

It would have been difficult for Cooper to abandon his post, Staples noted. He had signed a five-year employment contract with the restaurant. "He can't just get up and leave," she added.

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires ingesting more calories than a draft horse.
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