Big Breakup Brews Between Inn Owners at Little Washington

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Wednesday, September 13, 2006

In 1978, Patrick O'Connell and Reinhardt Lynch turned an old garage into a restaurant, and over the years they made their Inn at Little Washington one of the country's top culinary hot spots -- and put the tiny Virginia town of Washington on the map. Together, the two perfectionists created an international shrine of sumptuous food and wine that brought them fame, fortune and VIP guests who happily pay hundreds and thousands to eat, sleep and savor every flawless detail.

Now, the partners are in the midst of a contentious split that has rocked the town, much of which they own. O'Connell is seeking to sever all professional ties with Lynch, reports our colleague Walter Nicholls. In court papers filed last May in Rappahannock County, O'Connell seeks to fire Lynch and take control of all the inn's business affairs.

"It has not been a secret that Reinhardt and I discontinued our 'personal' relationship some years ago, but most people have respected our right to privacy in these matters," O'Connell said in an e-mail yesterday. "The Inn has always been like our child and neither of us would ever do anything to harm it. It has continued to flourish and its stars shine brighter than ever, evidenced by our #1 ratings in all categories in the just released 2007 Washington DC Restaurant Zagat Survey. Trust me, the food is better than ever."

Lynch declined to comment.

O'Connell's attorney, David Fiske , said the split "has no effect on the restaurant whatsoever. The dispute is over the real estate holdings of the partners."

The jewel in their crown is the inn itself, which started as an expensive gourmet restaurant, with O'Connell running the kitchen and Lynch greeting the guests and handling the business affairs. The inn added lush guest rooms in 1988, collecting international awards and becoming the special occasion destination for birthdays, anniversaries and weddings ( Alan Greenspan and Andrea Mitchell tied the knot there.)

Even after O'Connell and Lynch ended their personal partnership they continued together professionally, and have maintained the success of an institution that is the top tax-revenue producer in the town. In the past few months, that also went sour: Lynch hasn't been at his usual spot at the front door, and the two men kept their distance from each other at May's James Beard Awards in New York.

In court papers, O'Connell is asking for control of the two corporations they share: One owns and manages the restaurant and inn; the other owns more than a dozen other properties in town. The first suit asks the court if O'Connell, as president, has the legal right to terminate Lynch, a vice president with 50 percent ownership. The second suit says the two parties are deadlocked over their real-estate holdings except through "laborious protocols and extremely expensive arbitration." O'Connell is asking for permission to control the partnership until sale at a public auction.

Fiske said that the two men are currently in negotiations.

Your Most Pressing Questions About TomKat's Visit Answered

What was this all about? Why did Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes come to the Largo Six Flags and the Redskins game?

Skins rep Karl Swanson says it was just that happy synergy resulting from Cruise and Dan Snyder's new business relationship (the team owner is investing in the star's production company). "Dan said, 'You oughta come to a game sometime.' "

But wasn't it a brilliant cross-promotion coup? Cruise gets his face on ESPN (owned by Disney, rival of his recently estranged studio Paramount, prior employer of Six Flags CEO Mark Shapiro); Snyder gets attention for his struggling theme parks?

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