CaffÉ on the Green sues city over closure

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The children of CaffÉ on the Green’s owner and the catering hall’s former banquet manager are suing the city on the grounds that they were not given a chance to bid on the property, an attorney representing the family of Joseph Franco said.

Franco, who founded and operated Bayside’s CaffÉ on the Green, and the banquet manager of the popular catering hall are taking legal action against the city and the Parks Department following the city’s recent decision to replace Franco as the site’s concessionaire, attorney Joseph Giaimo said.

“They weren’t given a chance to bid on the property,” he said.

Giaimo said Franco’s children are seeking $1 million from the city.

A spokeswoman for the city Law Department said the agency would not comment on pending litigation.

CaffÉ on the Green, located along the Cross Island Parkway in Bayside, closed its doors permanently on Jan. 1 after the city decided not to renew Franco’s contract. 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.”

Earlier this month, the city chose Manhattan’s Friendship Restaurant Group as the new concessionaire following a bidding process during which the agency accepted requests for proposals from potential concessionaires. The new group is expected to take over the property Feb. 1.

Friendship plans to replace CaffÉ with Valentino’s on the Green, which will be named after silent film legend Rudolph Valentino. CaffÉ on the Green was built in Valentino’s former home at the site. The new restaurant and catering hall will offer similar services and Italian food to patrons, a Parks spokeswoman said.

Friendship also operates the Worlds Fair Marina Restaurant and Banquet in Flushing and 22 other city restaurants. 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.

Thompson’s office said Merissa Restaurant Corp., Caffe on the Green’s management company, did not account for more than $900,000 in income, which would have given the city more than $120,000 in revenue.

Howard Weiss, Merissa’s attorney, said the $900,000 was mostly from tips, which the company understood not to be included in gross revenues.

CaffÉ on the Green released a statement on its Web site, saying the catering hall would reopen at another site in Bayside at an undisclosed time.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

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