Sections

Emmons Avenue Restaurateur Finds Himself In a ‘Hole’

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Talk about “digging in.” The owner of a popular Sheepshead Bay restaurant was forced to plop down into a hole as a group of plumbers, on orders from the landlord, were about to shut down his water and sewer lines Monday morning – just six days before Mother’s Day, one of the biggest dining days of the year. Such was the latest salvo in the ongoing landlord/tenant dispute between Bob Francis, the owner and operator of Mario and Luigi’s Restaurant, and Claudia’s Coffee Shop, 2007-2011 and 2013 Emmons Avenue, and his landlord, Seagulls LLC, who Francis claims is trying to force him out of a longstanding lease. The battle moved from the courtrooms to the street of Sheepshead Bay Monday, May 2, when Francis saw no other choice but to stop a team from Victory Water and Sewer from ripping up the sidewalk and stopping up his water and sewer pipes. Francis hunkered down and refused to get out of the hole, thwarting the landlord’s plans. His attorney’s at Borah, Goldstein, Altschuler, Schwartz and Nahins, P.C. put the ultimate kibosh later Monday afternoon by reminding the plumbers, and the landlord. of a court injunction stopping everyone “from taking any action to terminate plaintiff’s [Francis] lease and leasehold interests.” “They [the plumbing company] said that they were doing a repair job, but it was a ploy,” said Francis, who claimed that he jumped into the hole after learning the truth. “They were going to stop up the pipes right before the busiest day of the season.” Francis, whose lease on the property doesn’t expire until 2023, has a litany of complaints against his landlord, most of which stem from incidents following a fire that broke out in his restaurant in the spring of 2003. The FDNY said the fire was accidental, although Francis and his co-workers have their doubts. As he and his staff went about repairing the building, Francis said that his landlord stole parking spots, which were exclusively for his restaurant and gave them to the Baku Palace, a new tenant at the corner of Ocean and Emmons avenues. Francis’ attorneys claim that taking exclusive parking spots, which hurt his business, constituted a “partial eviction.” When tenants are considered “partially evicted,” they do not have to pay rent, Francis’ attorneys said. Lawyers for Seagulls LLC is demanding that Francis make restitution on two years of back rent that he allegedly hasn’t paid. Francis and his attorneys refute the demands, adding that stealing his parking spots was among the many dirty tactics the landlord has used to get him out of the property. Other tactics include shutting off their gas and electric lines, Francis claimed. In Francis’ lawsuit, Baku has been named as a respondent, although attorneys for Seagulls LLC said that the “stealing parking spots” allegation was a zoning lot merger they claim “is common and legal.” On August 13, 2004, a judge denied the partial eviction claim and ordered Francis to fork over past and future rents. Francis’ attorneys won an appeal earlier this year. Everything has been put on hold until May 11, when attorneys will revisit the case once again. “The tenant [Francis] hasn’t paid rent in two years and has not paid for water and sewer in four years, but he still has the full benefits of operating his restaurant,” said Lee Henig Elona, an attorney at Troutman Sanders, who is representing Seagulls LLC. “He had an obligation to pay $30,000 in water and sewer bills to the city and the tenant refused to pay.” Elona added that her client felt they had a right to stop up the water pipes because they were not specifically identified in the injunction. The only reason why the water wasn’t turned off was because “he [Francis] jumped in the hole.” “We’re not going to cause any physical injury,” Elona said. “But his lawyer is taking an outlandish stance that, even though he is not paying rent, we have to provide him water and sewer. I’m surprised that he’s not asking for cable TV and electricity.” Francis, who personally owns several commercial properties in the borough, said that he had to sell two of the parcels just to keep Mario and Luigi’s afloat, which he sees as a tribute to his father. “I opened this restaurant 11 years ago in the memory of my father because he loved Italian restaurants,” Francis said. “I could walk away from this, but I’m not. I’m fighting for my employees, above all my managers, who have been with me over the years.” “Right now this is a matter of principle and you can’t stop a principle,” he said.

Posted 7:04 pm, October 10, 2011
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