Wegmans Accused of Stealing Japanese Chef’s Ideas in NYC Lawsuit

Osakana founder Yuji Haraguchi claims that the supermarket chain is in breach of a non-disclosure agreement and a non-compete agreement.



A popular sushi restaurant in New York’s East Village is suing Wegmans, alleging that the food market’s Astor Place location stole the concept for its newly opened fish market after three companies — Culimer USA, Red Shell Sushi, and Culinary Collaborations — learned “trade secrets, practices, and financial information” under the guise of acquiring the restaurant. According to the lawsuit, Wegmans’ Sakanaya — which means “fish market” in Japanese — bears an “uncanny and confusingly similar resemblance” to Osakana, which is located just a few blocks from Wegmans’ Manhattan location. (A spokesman for Wegmans told Food & Wine the company is “confident” that the allegations are “without merit” and that Wegmans is “proud of our 14+ year relationship with Uoriki, which has elevated our seafood and sushi program across the company, including at our Astor Place store.”)

In the suit, which was filed in New York County Supreme Court earlier this month, Okonomi and Osakana founder Yuji Haraguchi claimed that the supermarket chain is in breach of a non-disclosure agreement and a non-compete agreement — both of which were signed through Culinary Collaborations, Wegmans’ fish broker. A letter of intent was also signed.  

And according to a Change.org petition with more than 3,700 signatures, Haraguchi said that Sakanaya’s “aggressive” publicity campaign specifically targeted Osakana customers — all while they presented him with a “fraudulent business partnership agreement,” which was then revoked the following month. “Later on, I learned that this was not the first time that Wegmans stole the business from another company,” Haraguchi wrote. “As a matter of fact, Wegmans' whole sushi takeaway program started the same way: by stealing the important asset from another company (Genji Sushi) that they approached. That’s why Wegmans Sushi and Whole Foods Sushi look identical.”

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Wegmans’ representatives also visited Osakana for training purposes and observed the way in which Haraguchi’s employees operate the business as a whole — including how the fish is cut and sold by the quarter pound, and how the sushi and sashimi boxes are put together.

“They did have people come into the store and, like, watch us work,” says Jackie Ngo, Osakana’s general manager. “The employees instructed the people from Wegmans on what to do — they were teaching them and everything. And then Wegmans took that information and then just opened up Sakanaya after like a couple of weeks or like a month of just ignoring Yuji’s emails.”

“It is clear that, among other things, defendants are not interested in keeping their word, or competing fairly,” Haraguchi’s lawyers said in the lawsuit. “Rather, they would rather make millions by ripping off the life’s work of Mr. Haraguchi, a minority business owner.”

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