The relationship between restaurant owners and lawyers is not often described as symbiotic. Typically, we see lawyers called in to defend a client when a restaurant needs finds itself facing potential litigation.
In reality, however, working with an attorney who specializes in hospitality law can be a real asset that helps a restaurant business solidify their daily operations with the goal of growing to the next level. Today’s restaurateur is faced with a variety of legal challenges. From wage and labor compliance to the creation of real estate lease agreements and succession plans that set business owners up for success, selecting the correct attorney is vital for the future of your restaurant.
Andreas Koutsoudakis is the Co-Founder and Litigation Division Managing Partner of KI Legal. Koutsoudakis has created a law practice that specializes in working with restaurants and foodservice entities across the NYC metro area. As a young man, Koutsoudakis grew up in his father’s restaurant, spending most of his summers and college days helping the family business serve its loyal customer base.
His calling proved to be the law, and it evolved to give him the opportunity to utilize all his family business background to assist others in the restaurant community. Following his graduation from law school in 2008, the Manhattan-based attorney started his career working with businesses to settle wage and hour lawsuits. Soon after, he realized that there was more he could do to get ahead of these problems for his clients. “Quickly I realized I didn’t want to build a practice whose main purpose was just settling malpractice suits. I wanted to build a firm concept that could provide more for restaurant businesses by being providing preventative and proactive services.” explained Koutsoudakis.
With this goal in mind, Koutsoudakis and his fellow Co-Founder,Michael Iakovou, began to create labor and employment compliance packages that were both accessible and broad enough to fit the needs of most restaurant business models; by doing so, Koutsoudakis aimed to put the power in the business owner’s hands, allowing them to become compliant and get ahead of any other potential legal complications. Through these packages, Koutsoudakis drafted policies and plans for clients to handle their labor and employment compliance, from record keeping for hours todiscrimination and harassment defense, and more. Ultimately, Koutsoudakis designed a full portfolio of affordable legal systems designed to cater to the needs of the unique needs of the restaurant community.
Part of KI Legal’s hospitality services has always been to debunk the many myths associated with on-going labor compliance – one such myth being that an operator can rely ontheir payroll company to provide the proper documentation to keep them from potential discrimination actions. According to Koutsoudakis, “the payroll company’s focus is primarily on sending out the printed checks to your employees. However, this can be misconstrued as legal compliance when in fact it’s merely record keeping. The contribution these companies provide solely deal with the taxes and withholding, not necessarily keeping track of the actual number of hours worked. In other words, they will factor in however many hours the payroll manager inputs, which sometimes may be inaccurate. You must also consider the independent restaurants that have employees working off the books, which then becomes a tax issue not a payroll issue. How do they stay complaint? These companies don’t necessarily account for certain realities of the business that a lawyer will understand.”KI Legal offers a full range of multi-disciplinary services under the over-arching umbrellas of general counsel, litigation, and transactions. Koutsoudakis believes that all restaurant owners must “look at your restaurant through a different lens. We help our client base see not just a 10-seat pizzeria, but a business – and your restaurant deserves to have professionals on your side that really understand the dynamics.”
Koutsoudakis and his KI Legal team also understand the nuances of a post-pandemic real estate market, which has seen more New York restaurants taking advantage of new opportunities. Their diverse experience providing guidance on the negotiation of lease agreements between restaurant operators and existing and potential landlords has proven to be invaluable. “As a practicing lawyer right now is the time to do more than sign the standard lease agreement. Everything is negotiable.” said Koutsoudakis.
“Our approach is to help operators looking for a space for the first time to arm themselves with extensive knowledge about the industry and the community that they are moving into” Koutsoudakis noted.
By educating restaurant owners and sharing this valuable information with them, KI teachesthem to use that information to their advantage in that initial meeting with the landlord. “Knowing the realities of the industry you’re going into – such as moving into a space where people haven’t returned to their pre-pandemic work schedule -can be useful information to justify certain asks when making a deal with a landlord. These landlords want to fill the spaces to pay their mortgages, they are more willing to work with knowledgeable business operators who are prepared to face those issues head on,” Koutsoudakis explained.
KI Legal brings New York restaurant owners specialized restaurant and hospitality industry knowledge. KI Legal’s commitment to understanding the constantly changing hospitality law and relaying to owners how such law will impact them and their business is what ultimately drives them to success.