Reality television star and businessman Richard Rawlings was embroiled in a $6 million defamation lawsuit filed by Gas Monkey Bar, a restaurant that he reportedly co-founded. Many were befuddled by the situation, but it seemed that Richard had only licensed his trademark to the owners of the restaurant and bar. Even before the establishment opened, accusations were hurled by the two parties, including allegations of missing financial records, reneging on a contract, and construction disruption, among other things, that led to the defamation suit.

Meet the major players in the lawsuit

When the lawsuit hit the headlines, most people were confused about how Richard Rawlings was sued by the business which he was known to have started. To understand the situation better, meet the major players in the legal battle.

Who is Richard Rawlings?

The defendant in the lawsuit was Richard Rawlings; every car nut or gearhead who loved watching reality TV shows would have known or heard of him. He was the man behind the success of “Fast N’ Loud” aired on Discovery Channel, the popular series which featured the lives of people in an auto customization and restoration shop that he owned and managed called Gas Monkey Garage, situated in Dallas, Texas. His name became bigger and bigger as his show lasted for 16 seasons, with close to 160 episodes. There were spin-off series created too, including “Mistfit Garage,” which ran for six seasons, and “Garage Rehab,” which lasted for two seasons.

Over the years after establishing the auto shop, Richard turned it into a lifestyle brand complete with apparel and other merchandise sold at his online shop. He even created alcoholic and energy beverages, as well as co-founded restaurants, bars, and venue halls. Richard was a certified crowd drawer wherever he went, especially at car conventions and shows, due simply to his magnetic personality. After not renewing his contract with Discovery Channel in 2020, he opted to create content for his official YouTube channel, which gained more than a million subscribers, and his uploaded videos accumulated over 130 million views. Essentially, he continued most of what he did in “Fast N’ Loud” on his online channel.

Who are the Gas Monkey Grill N’ Bar owners?

Richard Rawlings was the face of Gas Monkey Grill N’ Bar since he owned the brand and made it popular. However, in reality, through a contract that was drawn-up back in 2013, he gave the license to use the Gas Monkey trademark and logo to a group of investors who were the plaintiff(s) in the lawsuit, including brothers Daniel and Mike Flaherty of United Commercial Realty, Peter Ore of Talent Live Nation, and Alex Mendonsa.

Reasons behind the $6 million lawsuit

From the photos of the opening of the Gas Monkey Grill N’ Bar, most people would think that there wasn’t any tension between the key players in the business. It was a surprise to many to learn that when the lawsuit was filed and documents were presented in court, stories about their disputes were revealed, dating back to the construction of the building of the restaurant. Here are the events that led Gas Monkey Grill N’ Bar owners to sue Richard Rawlings:

Disruption at the construction site

Owners and Richard Rawlings apparently already had a feud way back during the construction phase of the restaurant and bar in 2013, just after Richard gave the restaurant owners the license to use his brand. A bar employee named Tim Hinkhouse shared an incident about it through an email he sent in May 2013, writing, ‘Richard has been extremely disruptive. His treatment of the construction workers was beyond unacceptable. His behavior is that of a spoiled 13-year-old.’ The plaintiff also claimed that the incident wasn’t just a one-time thing, as there were several instances in which Richard intentionally made a scene on the construction site that halted the building process. Daniel Flaherty didn’t have a choice back then but to ban him from coming to the site, and said that if he didn’t do that, the construction of the restaurant wouldn’t be completed in time for its scheduled opening.

My new restaurant Richard Rawlings' Garage is parked in the Heart of Texas, if your in the Harker Heights area make sure to swing on by!

Posted by Richard Rawlings on Monday, November 14, 2016

Accusations of missing or incomplete financial records

Sometime in 2015, Richard sent an email to Daniel Flaherty et al, stating that the latter was stealing money from him by not having proper financial records, and even accused them of not setting-up one to begin with. Daniel told Richard that he could check the records of the restaurant in the accounting department anytime, so that he could verify for himself the financial state of the business. Even worse, they found out that Richard had been spreading lies to other people as well. In June 2016, Daniel formally emailed him that he’d heard of his allegations, and reminded Richard that he’d told him on several occasions that he was welcome to audit the books anytime he wanted. Richard replied via email, and apologized for hurling accusations publicly in the bar, writing, ‘My mistake for mixing drinking and emotions. Sorry for that.’ However, it seemed that the defamation lawsuit wasn’t resolved, as new allegations were hurled at the owners of the business.

Richard Rawlings countersued for $1 million

The legal battle continued, and in April 2019, Richard countersued for $1 million, as his official answer to the defamation lawsuit that was filed against him; this time, he cited claims of copyright infringement.

Using intellectual property without permission

According to his lawyer, his client claimed that the Gas Monkey Grill N’ Bar was operating for a few months without a license, and that the original license granted to them by his client was terminated on its own. They’d already sent a letter of notice to the owners but it was allegedly ignored. It turned out that the restaurant and bar continued operating, using Richard’s intellectual property. They presented pieces of evidence in court that affirmed their claim that Daniel Flaherty and his group used his trademark logos when they promoted events and products on their official social media accounts. without seeking permission from Richard. For instance, Gas Monkey Bar entered into an agreement with an alcoholic beverage, Jameson Whiskey, and tied the Garage Monkey brand to it.

Using his trademarked logo in promoting sexually provocative acts

Another thing that earned Richard’s ire was that the Gas Monkey Bar owners violated a clause on the license agreement in which they used his brand in promoting activities in the bar that had highly sexually suggestive content. Some people associated this claim with the strip tease/burlesque show entitled “The Suicide Girls- Blackheart Burlesque” that the Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill had featured in September 2018. It was not something he wanted his brand to be associated with especially since he made a conscious effort in making his reality TV series, “Fast N’ Loud,” family-friendly.

Mixed reactions on the $6 lawsuit between Richard Rawlings and Gas Monkey Bar

Many people were left bewildered as to why there was even a legal battle to begin with, between Richard and the owners of Gas Monkey Bar when they had a contract that tackled the licensing issue. While Richard had many fans due to the popularity of his reality TV show, he also accumulated haters over the years – television host Joe Rogan even described him as someone whom people loved to hate. He had this persona that it’s ‘either you love him or you hate him’, this certain confidence that attracted many people but some felt that it was bordering on arrogance, making him a douchebag.

At online gearhead sites, people had different views about it. The pro-Richard group generally said that the guy worked hard for many years to create a successful business and developed it into a lifestyle brand, so it was only natural for him to protect it. His name and his brand were being used, and it was just right for him to ensure that others did it appropriately – after all, one mistake could ruin everything. However, those who didn’t like him said that it was plain and simple greed that urged him to make false accusations against the owner of Gas Monkey Bar. They concluded that Richard probably realized too late that he wanted to establish a restaurant and bar that he 100% owned, but that he couldn’t do anything about it since he’d already given Daniel Flaherty et al the license to use his brand.

Caught up in various scandals

Richard certainly had his share of negative press, which was mostly related to his business ventures. The Fort Worth native was a risk taker, and most people were shocked that even before he turned 21, he’d already been a police officer, firefighter, and paramedic. He had this brazen personality to try to do what others perceived to be unthinkable, and that was probably what made him an easy target for scandal.

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Counterfeit booze complaint

It seemed that Richard’s fans were indeed correct when they said that whatever issue that would come out of his brand, whether he owned it or gave someone the right to use it, would reflect badly on him – it would be his name that would be dragged into the headlines. Sometime in 2015, the Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill in Dallas was the subject of an investigation.

Apparently, some clients filed a complaint that they were served with cheaper versions or what they assumed to be replicas of top-quality liquors that they ordered. The Texas Alcoholic and Beverage Commission (TABC) launched an undercover operation inside the Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill, the agents ordering several alcoholic beverages to check if the bar served fraudulent drinks. It turned out that only one drink didn’t live up to its expectations. because it was already watered down by the time it reached the TABC testing facility in Austin. The establishment only received a warning from the commission, but Richard’s brand took a hit, and he needed to assure everyone by going public to explain what happened.

Richard Rawlings and Aaron Kaufmann in string bikinis

One of the reasons why there were people who hated Richard was due to his audacity in using every means possible to promote his business, which made them doubt his sincerity. There was a time before he became popular that he along with his chief mechanic Aaron Kaufmann posed for a promo photo wearing only string bikinis and sunglasses. It was done just to irritate their rivals in a competition that they were a part of, but it was mostly the public who were disgusted by it. Up to this day, this photo can still be found online, and fans shuddered just at the thought of it. Most of them said they couldn’t unsee it, and advised others not to look for it.

How did the $6 million legal battle end?

Both the plaintiff and the defendant in the lawsuit were pretty confident that the court would decide in their favor. They both claimed that the problem started at the beginning.

Dan Flaherty et al stated in their complaint that as early as 2016, Richard was already trying to buy back the license that he gave to them, but didn’t have sufficient money to do it. They said that the allegations regarding the finances only started when there was a third party in 2017, that was interested in obtaining the rights to the Gas Monkey Bar, and would have been a done deal if not for Richard spreading false stories about them.

Austin Champion, one of the lawyers representing Richard in the lawsuit, said, ‘It’s obvious that this is nothing more than a fabricated claim as a last-ditch effort to try to get back the license.’ His client said that Gas Monkey Bar had already violated the license agreement since the first day, and that Richard had tried many times to resolve it since then. Eventually, Richard decided to terminate his relationship with them, when he realized that the group was unwilling to fulfill the obligations that were agreed upon in the contract.

According to court records, sometime in August 2021, both parties decided to resolve the issue by entering into a joint dismissal of the lawsuit, then announced that they’d settled everything between them – Dan Flaherty and his group would no longer be using Richard Rawling’s Gas Monkey brand in their restaurant and bar business. Since both parties never said anything ill about each other after the cases were discontinued, it could only mean that they also entered into a non-disclosure agreement. It was a smart decision from both sides, as they could proceed to pursue other business endeavors without getting negative press from then on.

What happened to Gas Monkey Bar after the case was dismissed?

Prior to the joint lawsuit dismissal, the Gas Monkey Garage Grill N’ Bar had already ceased operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic that shut down businesses globally. After the case was settled, all of Richard’s Gas Monkey trademark logo and name were stripped from the venue, including all the automotive tchotchkes that used to adorn the walls of the bar. The owners had a makeover, and one of its managing partners, Alex Mendonsa, shared, ‘We’ve updated the look and vibe of the venue, and eliminated a lot of the garage feel.’ The owners said that it was like breathing fresh air once again, as they focused more on music and food, which was why they named it Amplified. On their official website, they made sure that they posted a warning that the business was no longer affiliated with Gas Monkey Garage and Richard Rawlings. They boasted that they’d upgraded the place with a better sound system, and the bands that played there since it was re-opened attested that the customers experienced concert-quality performances no matter where they were in the venue.

Richard Rawlings reinventing the Gas Monkey restaurants

The entrepreneur in Richard Rawlings wouldn’t pass the opportunity to take advantage of the lifestyle brand that he’d created. After the $6 million lawsuit was settled, he lined up his plans for reinventing the Gas Monkey restaurant and bar business by expanding it to something unique. It wouldn’t just focus on offering food and music, but would be a venue with diverse ways of entertaining people.

In August 2022, he announced that he planned to launch Gas Monkey Dallas in Farmers Branch at Mercer Boardwalk, and the food would be Tex-Mex cuisine including lots barbecued and burgers. The 40,000-square-meter restaurant was scheduled to open in the spring of 2023, and the hot rodder claimed that it would just be the first of many. He already talked with some investors about having a Las Vegas branch, while another mega restaurant branch was being built in Lewisville. Some of these restaurants will also include playgrounds catering to those who love go-karts, miniature golf, and amusement rides. Some of his classic cars will also be on display for gearheads, as the venue is just a mile away from his Gas Monkey Garage.

Richard Rawlings never backed out of the challenges that life had to offer. While he never enjoyed being embroiled in legal battles, he realized that they were part and parcel of doing business, since he became a prominent figure through the success of his reality TV show. He made mistakes along the way, but never had a problem pivoting from them and exploring other interests. It was this resilience and perseverance that made him who he is today.

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