Drama at Delmonico’s: Fight over trademark puts reopening of landmark NYC steakhouse in jeopardy


Delmonico’s, the iconic Financial District restaurant, has been shuttered since 2020, and now hopes of a possible comeback are being kept on simmer.

Carnivores and lovers of fine dining thought they could finally rejoice when a press release, issued on Jan. 18, announced that Dennis Turcinovic, owner and operator of Delmonico’s Restaurant Group, and his partner Joseph Licul announced the long-awaited re-opening of the historic steakhouse, located at 56 Beaver St., this fall.

However, an Instagram post on the Delmonico page quickly tried to “86” the plans. The post states,”recent reports that we will re-open at 56 Beaver Street is false. It has come to our attention that former associates have been misrepresenting themselves to the media as owners of Delmonico’s. This is untrue, and legal action has been commenced against these individuals.”

 

The Instagram account is run by the Grgurev family, who say they are the sole owners of Delmonico’s trademark and its iconic brand.

Delmonico’s holds an important place in both American and New York culinary history. Originally founded in 1827, it’s considered one of the first American fine dining establishments, and through the years has served luxurious American fare to well-to-do clientele, including presidents, celebrities, captains of industry, tycoons and some of nearby Wall Street’s biggest movers and shakers.

The restaurant is also credited with innovating two iconic dishes: Eggs Benedict, the brunch staple of poached eggs served with Canadian bacon on an English muffin and topped with hollandaise sauce; and the Baked Alaska, a dessert of ice cream encased in broiled merengue. It also gained fame among carnivores for its signature Delmonico steak, a two-inch-thick cut of high-quality beef, usually served boneless.

The current beef between the parties stems back to a lawsuit that brothers Ferdo Grgurev and Omer Grgurev filed against their former partner, Branko Turcinovic and Milan Licul.

The brothers went into partnership with Turcinovic and Licul in the late 90s and formed Ocinomled LTD (Delmonico spelled backward) to purchase the iconic steakhouse. 

The iconic façade of Delmonico’s restaurant, at the corner of Beaver and William Streets in the Financial District.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Over the years, the relationship between the brothers and their partners began to rot. The Grugrev brothers accused Turcinovic and Licul of capitalizing on the famous name by opening other business ventures using the Delmonico brand.

The Grugrevs eventually filed a lawsuit for trademark infringement against Turcinovic and Licul, in addition to a slew of other claims. In the spring of 2021, a court ruled in the brothers’ favor, securing them full ownership of the eatery and Delmonico’s intellectual property. 

By then, New York City’s most historic and famous restaurant had already been closed for a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lawsuit. Plans to reopen the beloved eatery hit a major financial snag.

According to Eater, landlord Time Equities tried to evict Ferdo Grgurev and Omer Grgurev in April 2022 for nearly $300,000 in unpaid rent. The Grgurevs say they withheld rent because Time Equities failed to repair damages the restaurant sustained when New York was hit by the remnants of Hurricane Ida in September 2021.

‘Extremely bitter and upset’

The Delmonico’s Building gained landmark status in 2004.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

In a phone conversation with amNewYork Metro on Jan. 20, Dennis Turcinovic, son of Branko Turcinovic, said they are going ahead with the redesign and renovation of the restaurant. They plan on turning America’s first fine dining restaurant into an experience-driven venue with a modern design while still paying homage to its legacy. 

Dennis Turcinovic, who has been involved with the renowned restaurant since 1999, strongly disagreed with the Grgurev family’s assertion that they own the trademark. 

The lease expired in December 2022, and Dennis Turcinovic, and Joseph Licul, a relative of Milan Licul, jumped on the chance to rent the 186-year-old establishment for the next 15 years.

“The folks that were there prior are extremely bitter and upset,” Turcinovic said. “They lost the restaurant at the end of December because they did not renegotiate the lease with the landlord Time Equities.”

Turcinovic and Licul applied for a new liquor license with Manhattan Community Board 1, which was on the agenda of the Licensing & Permits Committee on Jan. 11. However, according to the community board’s website, a decision has been postponed until further notice. 

Apparently, the Grgurevs intervened in the process and informed Manhattan Community Board 1 that they are the rightful owners of Delmonico’s intellectual property.

Turcinovic said that he didn’t think they were going to call Board 1. 

In a letter to Lucien Reynolds, district manager of Manhattan Community Board 1, Turcinovic’s legal team, Lewis Brisboes Bisgaard & Smith LLP, argued that the Grgurevs’ claim that they are the owners of the Delmonico names was “overblown and a smoke screen.” 

“I sent him a letter from my team pretty much just like they really can’t do anything to stop me from getting a liquor license,” Turcinovic said. 

An old menu stand is still sitting by the hostess stand inside the shuttered Delmonico’s, the famous steakhouse in the Financial District.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“Trademark rights are obtained through use,” the letter explains. “The name Delmonico’s is not only etched in the building itself, but has been recognized as a City landmark as the site of the Delmonico’s restaurant. The original owners of the Delmonico’s restaurant licensed the name to Beaver for use in connection with a restaurant at 56 Beaver Street.” 

In a phone call with amNewYork Metro on Jan. 23, Reynolds said that the board had contacted the State Liquor Authority and asked for guidance on how to proceed.

When asked if the liquor license application was on the agenda for February, Reynolds said, “We haven’t made any determination at this point. But our agendas for February will probably come out at the end of this week.”

Turcinovic, however, is confident that they will be approved for a liquor license. 

“I didn’t know that they were going to say that they are owning the brand, which they don’t,” Turcinovic said. “We finally reached out, we are getting on for the next point. So we’re good.”

amNewYork Metro has reached out to a Grgurev representative for comment, and was awaiting a response at publication time.