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Bayside’s Caffé on the Green closes doors

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Bayside’s popular Caffé on the Green closed its doors permanently on New Year’s Day after the city chose a new concessionaire to replace the catering hall at its Cross Island Parkway locale, a city Parks Department spokeswoman said.

The city recently terminated Caffé’s license and has given owner Joe Franco until Jan. 31 to vacate the building, which was the home of silent film star Rudolph Valentino, at 201-10 Cross Island Parkway, the Parks spokeswoman said.

The site’s new concessionaire, Friendship Restaurant Group, will be able to move into the building Feb. 1 and begin renovations, she said. Friendship is comprised of restaurant businesses — Famous Famiglia Pizzeria and Usha Holdings, LLC. The group also operates the World Fair Marina Restaurant and Banquet in Flushing as well as 22 other city restaurants, she said.

But the new operator cannot open a business at the site until a contract with Parks has been completed and the city comptroller’s office has registered that contract, the spokeswoman said. She also said the building must be inspected by the city Health Department and the owners would have to obtain a liquor license.

The new concessionaire would operate a catering hall/restaurant similar to Caffé on the Green, she said.

The spokeswoman said the city ended its agreement with Franco following an investigation conducted by the city Department of Investigation. But she would not comment on the nature of the investigation or its findings.

The DOI would not comment on the investigation.

In June, an audit by the office of City Comptroller William Thompson found the eatery had “deficiencies so severe that the comptroller could not determine whether all gross receipts have been actually reported to the city.”

Caffé on the Green released a statement on its Web site, which criticized the city’s termination of its agreement with the catering hall.

“In this time of such high financial uncertainty, the city and its lack of responsible judgment and shortsightedness have placed our employees into an uncertain and stressful position, facing unemployment and the loss of their future pension and healthcare benefits,” the statement read.

The Caffe’s owner said that the catering hall would reopen at another unspecified locale in the neighborhood.

Eugene Kelty, chairman of Community Board 7, said Caffé’s closing would result in the loss of 90 jobs.

“It’s amazing that they can close a person down without having documentation proving any wrongdoing,” Kelty said. “The Parks Department is out of touch with reality. Joe Franco was always in the dining room and knew his customers. It wasn’t overpriced and the food was very good. He kept the outside of the place immaculate.”

Thompson’s office determined that Merissa Restaurant Corp., the management company for the catering hall, did not account for more than $900,000 in income earned between 2006 and 2007, which would have given the city more than $120,000 in revenue.

Howard Weiss, an attorney representing Merissa, said the $900,000 was mostly from tips, which the company understood not to be included in gross revenues. Franco had also said he believed the audit had been blown out of proportion.

City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said he believes Friendship will be a good addition to the neighborhood. But he questioned whether Caffé was given a fair opportunity to stay at the site.

“This goes on all the time,” he said of the comptroller’s audit. “But usually a business is just made to pay the money without their contract being immediately cancelled. I felt badly for the previous concession­aire.”

The Parks spokeswoman said a new business at the site could potentially open within several months. She said Friendship will replace carpets, update kitchen equipment and install energy-efficient fixtures at the site.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 6:34 pm, October 10, 2011
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