by Rick Carroll
January 27, 2015
The owners of a popular Aspen dining spot are taking their landlord to court over alleged eviction threats and a construction project they claim “nearly destroyed” business because customers thought the cafe was closed.
Jour de Fete, a French-inspired cafe located in the Durant Mall between the Grog Shop and the Stash recreational marijuana dispensary, filed a 34-page complaint Monday in Pitkin County District Court alleging that landlord Iacono Family Investments allowed a construction project to “get out of control” so that “weeks and months passed where the cafe was so covered in construction that it appeared to be closed or even out of business.” The suit also accuses the landlord group of making threats to evict the restaurant because it owes more than $30,000 in late charges on maintenance fees to the Durant Mall Condominium Association. But the landlord, the suit contends, initially agreed to waive those maintenance fees because of the construction project’s toll on the restaurant’s business.
“Iacono has forced this suit with threats to evict Jour de Fete,” the complaint says. “Jour de Fete’s legitimate suit is brought after months of efforts to negotiate a resolution and avoid any litigation.”
David Kelly, the landlord’s Aspen attorney, did not respond to a telephone message Monday. Landlord manager Tom Iacono declined comment.
“I thought we were in negotiations with Jour De Fete, and now I guess we are in litigation,” Iacono wrote in an email. “Since that is the case, I will let the facts come out in court and will have no further comment.”
As Jour de Fete co-owner Olivier Mottier took customers’ orders late Monday morning, he said he was running out of options, so litigation was necessary.
“I didn’t have a choice,” said Mottier, who owns the business with chef Emelio Martinez. “I’ve been having anxieties about this, and it’s not what I want to do. But the way they went, threatening an eviction and not wanting to honor the lease, at this point, I need to fight for my rights.”
Filed by Aspen attorney Matthew Ferguson, the suit portrays both Mottier and Martinez as “two hardworking and honest immigrants” whose landlord’s actions have jeopardized the restaurant, which Mottier opened in 1989, sold in 1997 and bought back in 2005.
“Olivier Mottier has quietly and politely asked for help,” the suit says. “His business has suffered significant lost revenue, a customer was injured in the eye by debris and disabled customers will testify how they have been denied access. Weeks and months passed where the cafe was so covered in construction that it appeared to be closed or even out of business.”
Construction in Durant Mall’s common areas began in April, and the Jour de Fete owners were told it would be finished in May before the summer tourism season began. But it wasn’t until Thursday that the 6-foot-high chain-link fences were removed from the area. The metal fences also were covered with blankets “that completely blocked all street views of Jour de Fete,” the suit alleges, adding that “The barriers created the appearance that Jour de Fete was closed for business.”
The suit describes the construction activity as “shoddy” and inconsistent, all the while hurting the restaurant’s business to the tune of a 25 percent drop in sales since it began.
Jour de Fete’s owners asked the landlord to help improve the situation but no progress was made, the suit alleges. The restaurant did receive one break during that period — a $900 rent reduction in July.
“Despite being told that the construction would be completed by June 2014, as of the date of filing this lawsuit, the construction still has not been completed — almost 10 months after it began,” the suit says.
As retaliation, the landlord threatened to evict the restaurant and began charging it late fees on the maintenance charges, the suit says. One eviction threat came on Christmas Eve, the suit says, while attorney Ferguson, who had been negotiating with the landlord’s attorney over the matter, was in South Africa.
“(The landlord) and its counsel knew the impact they would and did cause to the Mottiers — and a father and mother who spent this past holiday with Christmas Eve threats to end their family business,” the suit says.
Ferguson said the restaurant is current on its rent and it withheld paying the association fees from June through September because Iacono signed off on the deal. But when the condo association asked for the fees, Iacono said it was the restaurant’s responsibility. The restaurant also is current on the maintenance charges, but the landlord continues to push for the late fees, Ferguson said.