Drama at Delmonico’s: Trademark dispute jeopardizes reopening of NYC landmark

Delmonico’s, the Financial District’s iconic restaurant, has been closed since 2020 and now hopes of a possible comeback are being simmered.

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

However, an Instagram post on the Delmonico page quickly attempted to “86” the plans. The Post said: “Recent reports that we will be reopening at 56 Beaver Street are incorrect. It has come to our attention that former employees have misrepresented themselves to the media as the owner of Delmonico’s. This is not true and legal action has been taken against these individuals.”

The Instagram account is run by the Grgurev family, who claim to be the sole owners of the Delmonico brand and its iconic brand.

Delmonico’s holds an important place in the culinary history of America and New York. Originally founded in 1827, it’s considered one of the first fine dining restaurants in America and over the years has served luxurious American cuisine to wealthy clients including presidents, celebrities, captains of industry, tycoons and some of the biggest of nearby Wall Street 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, an ice cream dessert encased in grilled merengue. It also became famous among carnivores for its signature Delmonico steak, a two-inch-thick cut of quality beef that’s usually served boneless.

The current conflict between the parties stems from a lawsuit filed by brothers Ferdo Grgurev and Omer Grgurev against their former partners Branko Turcinovic and Milan Licul.

The brothers partnered with Turcinovic and Licul in the late ’90s, forming Ocinomled LTD (Delmonico spelled backwards) to buy the legendary steakhouse.

The iconic facade of Delmonico’s Restaurant on the corner of Beaver Street and William Street in the Financial District.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Over the years, the relationship between the brothers and their partners began to deteriorate. 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 trademark infringement lawsuit against Turcinovic and Licul, in addition to a number of other claims. In the spring of 2021, a court ruled in favor of the brothers, securing them full ownership of Delmonico’s restaurant and intellectual property.

At the time, New York’s most historic and famous restaurant had been closed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lawsuit. Plans to reopen the popular restaurant hit a major financial snag.

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

“Extremely bitter and upset”

The Delmonico building received 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 proceeding with the restaurant’s redesign and renovation. They plan to transform America’s first fine dining restaurant into an experiential space with contemporary design while paying tribute to its legacy.

Dennis Turcinovic, who has worked for the renowned restaurant since 1999, contradicted the Grgurev family’s claim that they own the brand.

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

“The people who were there before are extremely bitter and upset,” Turcinovic said. “They lost the restaurant at the end of December for not renegotiating the lease with landlord Time Equities.”

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

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

Turcinovic said he didn’t think they would call Board 1.

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

“I sent him a letter from my team like there’s really nothing they can do to stop me from getting an alcohol license,” Turcinovic said.

At Delmonico’s, the Financial District’s famous steakhouse, an old menu stand still stands next to the hostess stand.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“Trademark rights are obtained through use,” the letter says. “Not only is the Delmonico’s name engraved on the building itself, but the location of the Delmonico’s restaurant has been recognized as a city landmark. The original owners of the Delmonico restaurant licensed the name to Beaver for use in connection with a restaurant at 56 Beaver Street.”

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

Asked if February’s liquor license application was on the agenda, Reynolds said, “We haven’t made a decision at this point. But our agendas for February will probably come out later this week.”

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

“I didn’t know they would say they owned the brand, which they don’t,” Turcinovic said. “We finally got in touch, we come to the next point. So we are good.”

amNewYork Metro has reached out to a Grgurev representative for comment and is awaiting a response at the time of publication.