Archive for Thursday, January 15, 2004

Owner seeks to sell Paradise

Deal to reopen downtown restaurant in the works

January 15, 2004

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The owner of the Paradise Cafe is optimistic the downtown restaurant and its well-known menu will return.

Steve McCoy, owner of the cafe at 728 Mass., said Wednesday he had reached a tentative deal to sell the 18-year-old restaurant, a downtown institution.

"There are some things pending, but I feel that we're very close," said McCoy, who added that he hoped to complete the deal in about two weeks.

He declined to identify the prospective owners, but said they were expected to retain the Paradise name and return the original menu. Those were important factors to him as he sought a buyer.

"I have 16 years of myself into that place," McCoy said. "I think it would be a shame for it not to continue. Plus, I think there is a good market for another breakfast place downtown. And personally, I'd like to keep eating there. I really like the food."

The restaurant has been closed since early December. Paradise continued to operate for a few weeks as a bar only, but those operations ceased Dec. 31.

McCoy said he had been in discussions with three potential buyers, including owners of an area barbecue restaurant and a group of former Paradise employees who were seeking community members as investors.

Linda Steele, who helped organize the effort by former employees, said her group had stopped raising money and was waiting to see if McCoy could reach a deal with the unidentified buyers.

"From what I hear, I'm very optimistic about it," Steele said. "My whole interest in this was to help save the Paradise."

The group received about $15,000 in pledges but had not accepted money, she said. The group will restart its efforts if the potential buyers back out.

Former employees also are hopeful the sale of the restaurant would resolve a dispute about back pay, Steele said.

McCoy has estimated about 40 former employees are owed a total of $15,000 in back wages. Several employees have said they haven't received paychecks for between two and four weeks of work.

"Once I get a deal to sell it, I can begin negotiating, and the first group of people I hope to negotiate with is the employees," McCoy said. "But there are a lot of people out there who are owed money.

"The employees deserve their money. No one is disputing that. It is just a matter of how we get it to them."

In addition to employees, many vendors have claims against the business, McCoy said. He declined to say how much debt the business had accrued.

The restaurant closed about 14 months after McCoy stopped being actively involved in its operation. He reached a deal in 2002 to sell the business to Schuyler Lister, a downtown retailer who operates Creation Station. Lister was operating the business when it closed. But McCoy said the sale terms never were completed, and Lister never took ownership.

Lister remains on the lease, but McCoy said his understanding was that Lister had no desire to continue in the restaurant business. Attempts to reach Lister for comment were unsuccessful.

If a sale occurs, McCoy said he probably would become involved in the operations of the restaurant for an eight-to-12 month period while the new owners get it back on its feet.

He said the biggest hurdle to completing the deal is negotiating a new lease with the owner of the building that houses the restaurant. The representative of the building's ownership group, Park Hetzel III Trustees, is in the hospital and negotiations haven't begun, McCoy said.

"I'm pretty optimistic that we'll get a deal done because everybody is losing money as it sits empty," he said.

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