City officials will ask a judge to determine whether or not the company operating a Detour American Grille & Bar in The Commons violated its lease.
The Columbus Redevelopment Commission during its meeting Monday night unanimously approved that step to determine if the lease between the city and Greenhouse Restaurant LLC had been breached. Greenhouse opened its Detour American Grille & Bar on Jan. 14. That was despite an ongoing dispute with the city over whether the company breached its lease when it stopped operating as Scotty’s Burger Joint.
“We are just looking to clarify, for both parties, because we believe there is a material breach and they believe there is not,” said City Attorney Kelly Benjamin. “That seems to be the main issue. So seeking a declaratory judgement from a court to determine that would be helpful.”
Benjamin said Monday night that she was unsure which of the three Bartholomew County courts she would request make the declaratory judgment, because she was waiting for a board decision before investigating further. Benjamin advised the city earlier in the month that it should seek a court order before trying to evict the company, but that is not part of the judgment the city will request.
The Columbus Redevelopment Commission will ask a Bartholomew County judge to rule whether Greenhouse Restaurant LLC violated its lease, when it stopped operating a Scotty’s Burger Joint on Dec. 30 in The Commons.
The city contends that the lease terms call for a “Scotty’s Greenhouse” restaurant in The Commons, and that since Detour is not a Scotty’s franchise, the lease has been broken. The city had set a deadline of this past Friday for the restaurant owners to comply. The city presented the company with a letter Jan. 10 claiming that the company had breached its lease for the business changes and other issues, such as late rent payments and not making penalty payments.
The company counters that there never has been a “Scotty’s Greenhouse” and that an earlier lease revision changed all the references from “Scotty’s Greenhouse” to a Greenhouse restaurant. The company owners also have said that since Greenhouse continues to operate a restaurant in the space, it is in compliance.
No representative from Greenhouse or MSCB Group LLC, which owns Greenhouse, attended Monday’s meeting.
Mark Maddox, a co-owner of MSCB Group, said in an interview before the meeting that he had talked to five attorneys at five different law firms and likes his chances in court.
“My group has authorized initially up to $150,000 to engage in litigation should the city choose to sue us,” said Maddox, who is also an attorney.
He said he expected any legal conflict to be long and costly.
Maddox said he would prefer to settle the dispute amicably. But he said no headway has been made in discussions with city officials.
“We continue to believe that we are in compliance with our lease,” Maddox said. “We are current in our rent. We are operating it as a restaurant that is very similar to the restaurant we operated previously.”
The dispute over the name in the lease started in mid-December, when A Pots & Pans Production announced that its agreement with MSCB Group had ended and that the Columbus restaurant would close on Dec. 30. A Pots & Pans Production is the company that franchises Scotty’s locations for restaurateur Scott Wise. Greenhouse had a contract with A Pots & Pans Production to operate the downtown restaurant as a Scotty’s, but the Scotty’s chain had no ownership interest in the Commons restaurant.
The owners of Greenhouse said they scrambled to find a similar chain restaurant to fill their commitment to The Commons and settled on Detour. Greenhouse asked the Redevelopment Commission at a special meeting Jan. 2 to amend its lease so it could reopen the restaurant as a Detour franchise as soon as possible. However, the commission took no action on the request. After receiving the breach letter Jan. 10, Maddox vowed to open the Detour on Jan. 14.