Less than two years old, 5 Rabbit Cerveceria has found success that many young craft breweries would envy.
Its founders — Mexican and Costa Rican nationals — found a fresh niche in the industry: the first Latin-themed craft brewery in the United States. Renowned beer expert Randy Mosher agreed to come on as a minority partner and write their recipes. The partners hired a well-regarded brewer from Goose Island to run their new Bedford Park brewery. They even won two medals at the Great American Beer Festival, one of the world's preeminent competitions.
But in recent months, the relationship between co-founders Isaac Showaki and Andres Araya has frayed so badly that Araya filed suit against his partner in Cook County circuit court this week, claiming defamation.
Araya alleges that Showaki told multiple people that Araya had stolen money from the brewery — including $25,000 from a recent investor — and that he had had an extra-marital affair with a former female employee.
Mosher said Wednesday it was clear the partners' relationship was deteriorating, but that "the intent was to carry on and focus on the cool stuff that was happening for us."
"Now it's up to those guys and the lawyers as to how this will work out," he said.
But Mosher said 5 Rabbit has no plans to curb production at the brewery it opened in November following 18 months of having its beers made under contract at other breweries. Its first batches of beer made in Bedford Park will reach shelves and taps in the coming weeks.
"It's very, very difficult to imagine that happening," Mosher said. "We're just getting going. It would be crazy to let this stop."
According to the lawsuit, filed Monday, the relationship between Showaki and Araya began to deteriorate in late October, when "Showaki became increasingly obsessed with his perceived lack of power and influence at the company." He began "a campaign to tarnish and besmirch Araya's reputation in an effort to acquire control of the company," the suit says.
Araya alleges that Showaki told multiple people, including Mosher, that Araya had stolen money from the brewery and about the supposed affair.
(Araya and Showaki could not be reached for comment; the woman named in the suit said Wednesday that the allegation of the affair is false.)
"I'm not sure the work environment suffered, but for sure their relationship deteriorated," Mosher said. "For everyone else it was not all that obvious."
He declined to discuss specifics of the lawsuit.
Araya, a native Costa Rican, and Showaki, born in Mexico, met seven years ago while working as consultants at Bain Capital in Mexico City, working on a joint project with one of Latin America's largest breweries.
They briefly discussed opening a craft brewery in Latin America, but saw a more promising opportunity in the United States. Wanting a city with a significant Hispanic population, burgeoning beer scene and affordable living, they chose Chicago over Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Austin, Texas. The brewery has been largely embraced by bars and restaurants, which included convincing a series of Chicago Chipotle restaurants to carry 5 Rabbit.
Both partners remain active at the brewery, but whether both stay on remains to be seen. Araya is seeking damages in excess of $100,000.
"At this time, where all this great stuff is going on for the brewery — the beer is tasting great and we are rolling out this dream that everyone has had — it's hard to understand," Mosher said.
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