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How to Win Friends and Hustle People

Sometimes, you meet someone in New York who gives you a good feeling and a bad feeling at the same time. Maybe you’re introduced at a bar, through a friend of a friend. This person is charming and full of ideas, ideas that resonate with you. He seems to know everyone you know, and some other people you follow only on social media. You like him, even though you wonder whether he’s for real. He has a story about the city and his place in it, a story in which he may invite you to play a role. This is tempting. You get the sense that he has a momentum unlike other people’s, toward a destination that could be glamorous — or maybe catastrophic.

One such person is Ashwin Deshmukh, the 38-year-old managing partner of Superiority Burger, one of the most acclaimed restaurants in New York.

Since reopening last April, the high-low vegetarian diner in the East Village has garnered a three-star review from The New York Times, a James Beard Award nomination, and the title, bestowed by GQ magazine, of “Buzziest Restaurant in America.” That it took over the space once occupied by the venerable Odessa Restaurant, saving the neighborhood from yet another Duane Reade or Capital One, has made it only more beloved.

But June Kwan, the owner of the East Village Sichuan restaurant Spicy Moon, does not love Superiority Burger — or at least, the people behind the restaurant. In February, she sued them twice. The first suit asserts that since 2021, when Ms. Kwan invested a quarter of a million dollars in Superiority Burger through Mr. Deshmukh, the business has gone dark, refusing to send her proof of her equity, and eventually ignoring her altogether. The second suit alleges that in 2022, Ms. Kwan lent $200,000 to Mr. Deshmukh, and that he hasn’t repaid a penny.

Text messages attached to the suits capture the breakdown of Mr. Deshmukh’s relationship with Ms. Kwan, a Taiwanese immigrant who started her business in middle age. Ahead of Ms. Kwan’s initial investment, Mr. Deshmukh wrote to her that “I am so confident in this and our friendship that I am happy to personally guarantee your investment on a five-year basis.”

In October 2022, after a month of asking Mr. Deshmukh to repay the loan in increasingly desperate terms, Ms. Kwan wrote: “I have supported you with my full heart, but now you don’t pay me back the money and don’t update what happened to sb when I’m a shareholder. I don’t sleep well because of this.”

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