Attorneys: Wilmington restaurant wins suit against employees who stole dozens of recipes

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A Wilmington restaurant will receive compensation after three former Eternal Sunshine Café employees stole dozens of recipes and then deleted them, according to attorneys.

On Thursday, a New Hanover County jury found the employees jointly liable for computer trespass, misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of contract, and civil conspiracy. The restaurant was awarded $65,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

Eternal Sunshine, which opened on Eastwood Road in 2014, began expansion with the opening of a second location in Leland in 2019. The restaurant’s attorneys say Owner and Executive Chef Michael Pellegrino planned to open additional locations serving signature dishes and innovative specials developed in a test kitchen established at the second location.

COVID-19 forced Pellegrino to close the Leland location in May 2020 and furlough employees there until it could feasibly reopen. Attorney’s say the jury found that on the day of closing, employees Samantha Passwaters Frye, Paul Chris Frye, and Edgar Santos-Cardenas conspired to take most of the restaurant’s database of proprietary recipes and related information and to delete Eternal Sunshine’s password protected data for about 70 dishes.

“Especially with the restaurant already on its heels from COVID, the misconduct of these employees was a major blow to the café,” said W. Cory Reiss of the Wilmington firm Reiss & Nutt, which represents the café. “It also set back Mike’s plans to expand because these recipes and methods associated with them were his foundation for growth in this region and beyond. Mike has been busy recreating what these defendants deleted. But the verdict sends a clear message that such egregious conduct won’t be tolerated.”

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