Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Zelko Bistro Is [Probably Not] Leaving The Building

UPDATE (4:07 pm) Well, this was a complicated and crazy morning. Below you will find the account of my conversation with the leasing agent from Berkshire Hathaway. However, this afternoon Zelko posted messages on both Facebook and Twitter, claiming they are in negotiations but plan to stay in the 11th Street location. 

Some theories involve the property owners putting out the sign as a last ditch effort to bring the negotiations to an end and get a lease signed. Could be... In any case, I think the neighborhood will be very happy to see one of our favorite restaurants stay open for business. I am sure that, in the melee Chef Zelko was able to see how many people support and love her restaurant. I would be willing to bet a new wave of business is coming her way as she has been catapulted back in to the neighborhood consciousness in a big way. Maybe that was also a plan? Ha! Who knows, but hopefully we can all enjoy her comforting food in that unique and lovely space for a long time to come. 

This morning I posted and tweeted this picture of Zelko Bistro with a  "For Lease" sign in front. After many retweets and many Facebook comments speculating about what's going on, I decided to try to get to the bottom of it myself.

A call to the restaurant was answered by a pretty concerned employee, who assured me they were open. His voice told me he was confused and probably a lot nervous. He had no idea what the sign meant. His confusion regarding the issue was such that I literally pulled up the photo and triple checked that I had the right building.

Next I called the number on the sign. Mike Huff, a Realtor from Berkshire Hathaway right down the street, returned my call immediately. I had a pleasant and informative chat with him, and he assured me the building is for lease. Zelko will be moving out. He doesn't know when and can't disclose much about why, but whether they close or re-locate is uncertain (although there are additional, unsubstantiated claims that they will relocate. Yay!). Either way, they will no longer be housed in the gorgeous bungalow at 705 E 11th.

According to Huff, who represents the property owners, they have been in negotiations with Jamie Zelko for at least six months. Huff says that the owners have gone to great lengths to keep Zelko Bistro in the building but negotiations broke down and became "one sided." While I am sure there is a second side to the story, this is all we have right now.

Currently, the sign has been taken down because of a call to Huff from the restaurant. There have been many calls interested in the space, even in the short time it was posted, Huff said. So, while Zelko seems to be open for lunch service today, the building is available for lease immediately. The owners hope to "not have a single day of vacancy" between the exit of Jamie Zelko's concept and what ever new one takes over.

This is a sad day for the Heights. This restaurant was much loved. Jamie Zelko is a Heights resident and respected in our community for her food and her honeybee project. I wish good things for her and hope to eat her Captain's Chicken or better-than-my-grandma's meatloaf again some day. Until we have more information, though, you might try grabbing lunch. My heart really goes out to the employees, who seem to know nothing about the fact that they may be losing their jobs any day. Give them an extra tip at your au revoir meal today. They'll need it.

Addendum from Facebook:
  • Jeremy Goodwin Here is the skinny. The sign was up for a few hours, the landlord is upping the rent to what I consider an untenable amount, already has a list of potential clients and took the sign down. The restaurant will stay open until the end of the lease, I don't know when that is but probably 90 days.
    • The Heights Life Realtor told me the space is available immediately if someone is ready to move in. He got a call from the restaurant asking him to take the sign down. He also said that the owner went to great lengths to get Zelko to stay. I pushed back hard on that, knowing full well what property owners are doing in the Heights these days. I mentioned that 11th St is particularly contentious right now and that many much-loved Heights businesses, spots that define the neighborhood, are being pushed out. He said that is not the case with Zelko. Until Chef Zelko makes a statement, this is all the information I have.

UPDATE, maybe (12:49 pm): People keep calling the restaurant out of concern. They are being told by employees at Zelko that "the sign was a cruel joke." Above are details of my conversation with the leasing agent, Mike Huff, of Berkshire Hathaway. If this is a joke, it's pretty well thought out to have the Realtor duped as well. Only time will tell at this point...

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