The owners of Detour American Grille & Bar fought for two months to successfully and legally operate a downtown eatery in Columbus but over the weekend decided to fold their tent.
They informed employees of the news during a staff meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.
Some of the employees were involved in an emotional Jan. 10 public-relations campaign, pleading with Mayor Kristen Brown and the city’s Redevelopment Commission to allow the restaurant to operate under the lease obtained for the previous franchise, Scotty’s Burger Joint. Of about 50 restaurant employees who attended that meeting in a crowded City Hall chambers, many pleaded for their jobs.
Still facing a potential legal battle with the city over the lease, as well as sluggish business throughout the first few months under the Detour brand, MSCB Group LLC owners dispatched moving trucks to downtown Columbus, where restaurant equipment was loaded Monday night before employees turned off the lights for the final time.
“We’re sad to be leaving Columbus,” said Mark Maddox, co-owner of MSCB Group, which operated the restaurant.
He listed several factors that combined to lead him and business partner Meredith “Mert” Shipman to their decision.
Maddox said that the past two months have been frustrating, from a legal standpoint and seeing the restaurant face a drop in business.
He said the spiraling decline in customer traffic actually began in the fall, when the restaurant operated as Scotty’s Burger Joint.
Through much of September through November, construction temporarily closed the nearby Washington and Fourth Street intersection, making it difficult for customers to get to the Scotty’s restaurant and others located in or near the disruption.
When the owners suddenly parted ways with the Scotty’s management group Dec. 19, it left Maddox and Shipman a matter of weeks to identify a new franchise under which to run their restaurant.
The city, in response, charged that Greenhouse Restaurant LLC, as the leaseholder, could legally operate under only the Scotty’s brand.
“The political climate changed,” Maddox said about the transition from Mayor Fred Armstrong to Mayor Brown, who took office in January 2012. “The city originally was very receptive to us.”
Maddox said the business environment turned unfriendly, however, and the restaurant had the stigma of threatened court action involving its lease that kept some customers away.
Brown said following the Jan. 10 city council meeting attended by Detour employees that she was disappointed that the restaurant operators used “emotional blackmail” to make their case.
“In the end, we want to be in a place where the people want us,” Maddox said Tuesday.
Brown said the city bears no responsibility for the termination of operating agreements of Scotty’s and Detour with Shipman and Maddox.
“That (Scotty’s) termination resulted in a breach of our lease, which was exclusively for operating a Scotty’s restaurant,” Brown said by email Tuesday.
“That lease violation potentially means that the city must follow a state-mandated process to request proposals for leasing the space.”
Brown also contended that Maddox and Shipman made inflammatory comments and unfounded accusations about the city’s conduct to the media.
“We have five other restaurants as tenants in The Commons and in the Fourth Street parking garage,” Brown said. “We are fortunate that they are all excellent tenants, and we have very good working relationships with them all.”
Detour opened Jan. 14, replacing the Scotty’s restaurant that had closed about two weeks earlier. Scotty’s was the original Commons restaurant that operated at 310 Washington from November 2011 until Dec. 30, 2012.
Shipman had a business relationship with A Pots & Pans Production, which ran the Scotty’s chain of restaurants, to manage the Columbus restaurant. But that management relationship soured and was terminated in mid-December.
In early January, Shipman informed the city that he planned to replace Scotty’s in the same location with the Detour restaurant, which fueled the city’s breach-of-lease claim.
When it closed, Detour had about 50 employees who will be given the opportunity to work at other Detour locations in the Indianapolis area if they choose, Maddox said.
Brown said she realized Detour had closed when she walked past The Commons on Monday evening on her way to dinner at Puccini’s.
“No one contacted us,” Brown said Tuesday. “We would have appreciated some notice.”
Kurt Schwarze, owner of the 4th Street Bar & Grill at 433 Fourth St., said he had hoped Detour would be able to stick around until warmer months when the restaurant could profit from its large outdoor dining area.
“The restaurant business is a tough business,” Schwarze said. “I hate to see anyone not make it.”
He said construction downtown in the fall hurt many of the entertainment district’s restaurants.
Schwarze said he hopes downtown restaurants will see an uptick in business now that the Fourth Street beautification project is complete and that a new spring farmers market will bring more people downtown starting April 27 along Fourth Street between Washington and Jackson streets.