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Published: Wednesday, 2/8/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Dispute with landlord tables any plan to sell Admiral's Grill

Restaurateurs say lease calls for separate utility meters

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Docks Venture LLC leases Admiral’s American Grill and the spot next door, which is subleased to El Vaquero. Dashing Pacific Group Ltd., a U.S. corporation formed by Chinese investors, owns The Docks. Docks Venture LLC leases Admiral’s American Grill and the spot next door, which is subleased to El Vaquero. Dashing Pacific Group Ltd., a U.S. corporation formed by Chinese investors, owns The Docks.
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The owners of Admiral’s American Grill say they are still interested in selling or subleasing their restaurant at The Docks complex in East Toledo, but any negotiations are on hold until they resolve a dispute with their landlord over utility lines.

The Blade first reported two weeks ago that Docks Venture LLC had filed a lawsuit in Lucas County Common Pleas Court against Dashing Pacific Group Ltd., alleging Dashing Pacific had not fulfilled a portion of the lease that required it to install separate electric meters for Admiral’s American Grill and El Vaquero, which is located next door.

Docks Venture LLC leases both spots from Dashing Pacific, a U.S. corporation formed by Chinese investors Yuan Xiaohong and Wu Kin Hung. Docks Venture operates Admiral’s and subleases the other spot to the El Vaquero restaurant chain.

Mike McKarus, one of Admiral’s co-owners, said all electricity used by El Vaquero is currently billed to Admiral’s. The two separate businesses do have separate gas and water meters, but many of the lines are intertwined, he said. For example, Mr. McKarus said the main gas line used to cook food at El Vaquero is on the meter for Admiral’s. Mr. McKarus said the electric bill has totaled $60,000 since the two eateries opened last spring.

Officials with Admiral’s say that puts both businesses at risk should one fall behind on utility bills, and impedes any motions to sell or lease Admiral’s because the owners can’t accurately show their costs to potential buyers.

“We want to market the place. It’s probably one of the best restaurant spots in Northwest Ohio,” Mr. McKarus said. “The problem is it’s unmarketable.”

Docks Venture officials say the lease they signed March 18, 2011, with Dashing Pacific included a provision that said Dashing was fully responsible for paying to install separate meters for all utilities inside the leased properties.

Representatives for Dashing Pacific reject the suit.

“We feel it’s frivolous and completely without merit,” said Scott Prephan, a local businessman who works closely with Dashing Pacific.

Mr. Prephan declined to comment on the details, saying he was not an attorney and did not want to jeopardize the case.

Lisa Schnabel, left, serves customer Robin Reid at Admiral’s American Grill. El Vaquero’s electric bill is currently billed to Admiral’s. Lisa Schnabel, left, serves customer Robin Reid at Admiral’s American Grill. El Vaquero’s electric bill is currently billed to Admiral’s.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

David G. Squillante, the attorney who represents Dashing Pacific, said the investment group thought it had addressed the issue with Docks Venture. He said it would work through the court system to resolve the dispute.

He wouldn’t comment on the specifics.

Luis Melendez, manager and part owner of El Vaquero at The Docks, said it would like to pay its share of the electric, but it doesn’t don’t know what it is.

“It can be a headache to figure out where the electricity is going,” Mr. Melendez said.

The utilities are connected the way they are because the restaurants that formerly occupied the two spots — Navy Bistro and Tango’s — were operated by the same owner, Tom Cousino.

Docks Venture, which has a 25-year lease with Dashing Pacific, listed Admiral’s for sale last year with an asking price of just under $900,000. Mr. McKarus said two successful restaurateurs showed serious interest in the business, but backed off when they learned of the dispute over utility lines. He declined to identify the people.

“That was always a goal of ours. Get [the restaurant] up and going and potentially sell it to the right person,” Mr. McKarus said.

Docks Venture said it reached out several times to city officials to ask if they could act as a sort of mediator in the issue before they filed a lawsuit against Dashing, but the city declined.

The administration put considerable effort into cultivating a relationship with Dashing Pacific, which purchased both the Docks complex and a 69-acre portion of the Marina District from the city last year. City spokesman Jennifer Sorgenfrei wasn’t specifically aware of Docks Venture’s request, but said getting involved in such a dispute is not the city’s business.

“I don’t know [that] it would be appropriate,” she said. “We wouldn’t intervene with any other private landowner and their tenants.”

In addition to the separate meters, the suit seeks judgment in excess of $25,000 plus interest, litigation costs, and attorney fees.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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