How Folio's Man of the Year, Craig Van Horn Became Springfield's Greatest Liability (and conned hundreds of thousands of dollars for his failing real estate empire)
Largely through the active sponsorship of Rita Reagan, Craig Van Horn developed an early reputation for being the "Poster Child" of the Springfield redevelopment. Its symbol and hero. There wasn't really any particular reason for this, except that he looked the part and had a positive message that dovetailed nicely with the New Urbanist ethos that drove the early days of the neighborhood's recovery. Certainly he didn't own the most properties: Even back then, Mack Bissette's group, represented by Tom Purdy had the largest inventory.
He didnt have the most exciting projects either.. Michael Trautmann had been in the neighborhood for a few years and had enacted a few stunningly tasteful renovations, including his own home on 5th Street across from the equally gorgeous Wolfson Mansion owned by Michael and Paige Dampier.
He clearly wasnt the best funded, nor had he placed the most new families in the Springfield environs. Both of those honors belonged to Kevin Gay from Operation New Hope and Fresh Ministries, whose early work had already established Operation New Hope as the most earnestly devoted to change and had even gained the recognition and praise of the most fundamentally uncaring white house in recent American History.
But Craig was young, had a winning smile, and one hell of a PR operation... meaning that he swept the Little Old Ladies at SPAR (referred to affectionately as the LOLAS) pretty much off their feet.
He started with a solid block of homes on Laura Street, which he had purchased for between 5 and 20 thousand dollars apeice. He came to St. Augustine in 1999, merging his Georgia based Symbiosis LLC into a Florida operation. Using the profits from a home renovated in the Little Five Points District in Atlanta, Van Horn hoped to cash in on the possibility of a similar gentrification in Jacksonville Florida. As a result of initiatives from the city, Springfield seemed the most likely candidate... and the prices definitely couldn't be beat.
Craig's sister had preceded him into Springfield in a large home on Laura Street, cross cornered from Rita Reagan's own home.
With that as an anchor, Craig had acquired all of the property south of her home for under 200 thousand.
The homes were substandard and in poor repair. This was hardly unique to Van Horn as the entire neighborhood was in the same state of disrepair, but because Craig's properties were all adjacent, his tenants were able to network and discuss with each other. They threatened to take their complaints to the city and presented Craig with an ultimatum.
Craig responded by utilizing the cities facade renovation grants to fix up the exteriors and by evicting the tenants.
Despite the hard luck to the complaining tenants, the neighborhood was pleased with the visible results. Freshly painted exteriors, and wholesale eviction of many of the lower income residents.
With Rita Reagan in control of SPAR, Craig was a made man. (http://sparcouncil.org/old_site/March-April 2005.pdf )
(page 12, break out the bubble gum and bobby socks)
Van Horn arrived late to the Commercial Real Estate game in Springfield, but it was probably inevitable that he would throw his hat in. Starting in 2002, Main Street redevelopment had become a hot topic as the attention to the neighborhood centered on the shops, restaurants, clubs and other enterprises drawn to Springfield during a general shift of arts based businesses to the neighborhood. At Reagan's invitation, Van Horn attended an exploratory committee meeting of an umbrella of Arts Organizations and made contacts, hoping to find residential tenants for his dilapidated properties.
He was met with a demand for studio spaces, and was in the process of procuring 8th Street properties in advance of the Better Jacksonville Plan mandated renovations.
He placed Steve Williams and Jim Draper from Pedestrian Studios, Dr. Terry Netter, a noted painter and the Dean of Fine Arts at Jacksonville University, and Tonya Lee an adjunct professor at UNF in properties on Pearl Street.
He then acquired both an old Deco Church and the old Firestone Station at the corner of 9th and Main. Reputedly the sale price was under a hundred thousand for the structures combined.
In the meantime, Boomtown, Eden, Epicurean, The Pizza Factory, The Muse Cafe, The Lee Harvey Gallery, The Carter, Klutho's Jazz Club and several galleries, including Diallo's and Picket and Watts had opened on Main Street.
Craig sought financial aid from the Northwest Economic Development Trust Fund, a fund set aside specifically to create economic opportunities for minority owned or operated businesses in order to renovate the property.
In order to comply with the requirements of the aid, Van Horn had to demonstrate that he had contracts in place that would allow him to repay the loan amount. He approached a few of the arts based businesses to sign letters of intent to show that the property, if renovated, would be income producing. To that effect, Boomtown signed two separate letters of intent to lease the space----one for a place to be called "Einstein's Revenge", and another portion of the space to establish a film and video editing studio. http://www.jaxdailyrecord.com/showstory.php?Story_id=1214
Van Horn took the letters of intent and was able to secure funding for the renovation of the building.
Once 9th and Main was opened however, Van Horn decided not to honor the committment for leases signed with Boomtown.
He instead announced that he had also engaged a group of cloggers to simultaneously rent the space, explaining that he had no idea that the letters of intent had meant a 'dedicated' lease---a nonsensical phrase meaning something like a timeshare lease except on a daily basis.
Ultimately, he decided to open a theater/cafe along the same lines as Boomtown Theater and Cafe, which was to be called "Henrietta's", named after Henrietta Dozier, an intriguing a rare female architect from the turn of the century who had been an associate of Henry Klutho----historic especially to the Springfield neighborhood. http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/011403/bus_11463334.shtml http://jacksonville.bizjournals.com/jacksonville/stories/2005/04/18/smallb1.html
Henrietta's opened to much fanfare, with a management group composed of Craig, Kevin Hayes, and all the menu design and execution done by Dave Witt and Justin Watkins.
Watkins had already established himself as a pivotal young figure in the early Springfield environment. Engaged to Ingrid Green, (who with her sister Stephanie, also partnered with Van Horn to form a company called Streetscapes), his mother Vickie Watkins was the executive director of The Sanctuary, a not for profit youth center located at the old Post Office on 8th Street. In partnership with Fresh Ministries, Vickie had renovated the historic building when it had been abandoned by the US Postal Service.
For Lunchtime, Henrietta's was a smash hit. Dave's spicy comfort food menu and the friendly young service made it quite a success with lunches, sometimes bringing in sales of several thousand dollars a day.
In fact all the attention garnered Folio Weekly's highest form of recognition: He was featured on its cover as Folio's Man of the Year, and inside credited for singlehandedly reviving the Springfield Area with his Superpowers and magical Arts Developer Wand. Yes, they were heady days for the enterprising Mr. Van Horn.
It was then that the money irregularities began, and the pattern of swindling followed by closings followed by restarts, new swindlings, and new closings established itself. Wash Rinse, Repeat.
Stealing Money from Henrietta's
Dave Witt and Justin Watkins had operated Henrietta's for almost two years. Finally, suddenly, they walked out, taking with them most of the employees, all of the recipes, and much of the early good will Craig had accrued with the neighborhood.
Justin Watkins I guess it was that he lied so much to us and stole the money.
MetroJacksonville What do you mean? How did he steal the money.
Justin Watkins Well he kept taking the money out of the (Henrietta's) accounts and using it on his real estate projects--if streetscapes needed money he would spend it on streetscapes, (the real estate company owned by Craig and partners) and if Symbiosis (Craig's Main LLC) needed it he would give it to them. He spent a bunch of money buying them signs"
And we worked for our part of the equity in the business, and then after we had done the work he told us 'no thanks, not interested'.
MetroJacksonville What do you mean? You guys had an oral agreement to trade all that work for a share but----"
Justin Watkins "No we had a contract, all written out, and then he just refused to honor it."
MetroJacksonville "Why didn't you sue him?"
Justin Watkins "We didn't have the money to, simple as that."
MetroJacksonville "Do you still have the contract"
Justin Watkins "Yeah."
Even while Henrietta's was experiencing a rush of success, Craig was dipping into the accounts. The partnership agreements that he had entered into with Witt and Watkins provided for them to have a split of the profit. Normally, ongoing accounting would simply deduct the costs of operating the restaurant from the total sales and then divided up amongst the partners.
But Craig began writing large checks from the accounts of Henrietta's to pay for real estate expenses, including almost a hundred thousand dollars taken from the restaurant that he used to pay for the renovation and build out of the bar and theater portion of 9th and Main. A portion that Van Horn made clear was not going to be used by Henrietta's.
One of those businesses was opened over the objections of Witt and Watkins months before their split with Van Horn by Deborah Neary, who had a similar experience with Van Horn. Neary, a resident of Springfield had moved to the neighborhood from Washington State where she had run a successful gift and coffee shop for many years. She was one of the founding management team of the Epicurean Cafe, when the restaurant opened up as primarily a high end coffeehouse and organic food store. After leaving the Epicurean Craig Van Horn offered her an opportunity at 9th & Main, where she opened up the Espresso Cafe, a coffeebar and deli sandwich outfit that featured Boars Head deli products and premium coffees.
Cafe Espresso is referenced here in a cached post on Urbanjacksonville.info. Also it is referenced in Rita Reagans breathy little paean to Craig linked above. http://www.urbanjacksonville.info/2006/07/21/where-is-the
The experience with Van Horn left her with a very bitter taste in her mouth.
"Well basically, he screwed me over with the way he did it."
"Originally he told me that I was going to be a partner in the space, and we wrote out a contract for the whole thing, but it didnt end up happening that way, and in the end I was just an employee and he fired me. Of course, when I went to file for unemployment, he tried to say I wasnt an employee after all. But when they looked into it, it turned out that I was an employee and he hadnt filed any of the proper paperwork and I was then able to get my claim."
"I laid out the floor plan and all of that side... I'm looking through papers, and here are the equipment lists and all... lets see, I was supposed to get 25% of the profits or something like that, with a contribution of 300 dollars of month for the space. At that point he must've been planning to put a bar in there the whole time, because he excluded me from being able to sell beer and wine on that side, so I was just able to sell coffee drinks and sandwiches and some food items. Of course when I got in there, he changed the whole thing and suddenly my 'contribution' was supposed to be $1,500 a month instead of the three hundred... and I'm just a little coffeeshop. --- and we had had it all written out. I was going to get a base pay of $1,500 a month, and then a percentage of what he called the 'contribution. And then I had to pay for the space. There was no way that I would ever get any profit share at all with the new terms that he gave me. So I ended up being an employee. Then when he screwed over Dave and Justin and they ended up walking out, he got rid of me by firing me, but then claiming I wasn't an employee."
But I never got paid what we agreed on and the contract just ended up never panning out."
The end of both enterprises came with the demand on the part of Witt and Watkins to be vested with their contractually guaranteed equity in the restaurant---meaning that Van Horn had guaranteed in writing to give the duo a greater share of the business based on their labor. After they lived up to their part of the bargain, they approached Van Horn to deliver on his part. Van Horn declined and announced that he was in negotiations to sell the restaurant outright.---an announcement that came as a shock to the two.
Within a week, Van Horn began constructing a separate entrance to the establishment and made clear his intention to open a competing restaurant adjacent to Henrietta's. (An additional surprise to Deborah Neary at the Expresso Cafe---since she was already occupying the space in question)
Confronted with Van Horn's refusal to honor the contract, Witt and Watkins quit.
Retailers forced out of Business and the formation of "The New Springfield"
In the meantime, Van Horn's ventures into commercial real estate were having disastrous results--especially to the group of tenants occupying his spaces.
Continuing with the practice of facade renovations on buildings which were otherwise unimproved, Van Horn leased out spaces to Tonya Lee who opened up a shop called "Roost", a fitness instructor James Peoples who opened up a gym and fitness facility and Dean Terry Netter, the venerable leader of the Fine Arts College at Jacksonville University for many years. Netter opened up a painters studio across the street from Roost. (http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/082103/bus_13328008.shtml )
A short time later, both spaces were closed due to the seperate collapse of the ceilings and roofs, and in Netter's case, the destruction of many paintings and loss of art supplies.
In all, five small businesses opened and were closed, losing their entire start up costs in the process.
Van Horn managed to avoid a scandal by razing the buildings and announcing a bold new development plan which he intimated included a Starbucks and several businesses hotly desired by the Springfield neighborhood. Van Horn was given the benefit of the doubt and retained an architectural firm to execute drawings for the development of the properties, dubbing this next phase of his attempts "The New Springfield", even initiating a website: thenewspringfield.com.
The entire project ended up being a red herring. Not even the architects were paid despite months and months of work and detailed schematics produced for the project.
With the departure of Dave Witt, Justin Watkins and Deborah Neary, the stage was set for the next set of victims: Neighborhood pioneers, Carlos and Cherrise Stein.
The Steins came up with the 5 digit fee demanded by Van Horn to purchase Henrietta's.
They were out before anyone really realized they were there, and with them the oversold 'partnership shares' of Henrietta's were gone.
Breaking the Steins.
One egregious complaint arising from Van Horn's management of the contracts with Henrietta's was the Rent that he was charging Henrietta's LLC.
Craig owned 51% of the business, the rest being divvied up amongst the partners. His claim to this percentage was his ownership of the building itself. Despite taking 51% for owning the space, he still charged the restaurant an outrageous six thousand dollars a month. This was only revealed after he had signed the papers (with himself) as the majority partner of Henrietta's to lease the Space from 9th and Main LLC.
When Carlos and Cherrise Stein "bought' Henrietta's, they signed a new lease with Van Horn setting the rate at five thousand a month for the restaurant space, and on the basis of possible investment from a cousin in South Florida, he signed an additional lease for the rest of the space including the new theater and Bar--also for five thousand dollars a month.
The Steins refinanced their beautiful home in Springfield in order to open their own restaurant and gave Craig in excess of fifty thousand dollars in order to purchase the business. None of this purchase money was split with his 'partners' Witt, Watkins or Hayes despite the fact that they apparently owned the shares sold by Van Horn.
Before long, Carlos found it necessary to open a seperate bank account that Craig did not have access to in order to deposit sales from the restaurant. This was the beginning of interference from Van Horn. The investment from the cousin to open a nightclub did not materialize and the Steins canceled their lease on the 'club' side of the building.
Cherrise, now divorced and working at an educational facility, said,
"I wouldn't suggest anyone have anything to do with anything Craig Van Horn has any involvement in whatsoever. Hes a liar and a cheat and a really good salesman.
He puts this huge sense of urgency on everything----everything has to be finished YESTERDAY!....he bullies people into quick deals and then they are screwed."
"We put up this enormous amount of money and refinanced our house to do it. We installed the oven that he has there and he set it up for us to fail. At one point he even went in and stole all the liquor out of the closet that we had purchased, claiming it as 'back rent' for the club that never opened. He is nothing but a cheat."
Van Horn relentlessly pursued the Steins, placing a lien against their home. Within short order the Steins were bankrupt, the restaurant was closed and their home was taken in foreclosure. It was only then that Cherrise discovered that he had pursued their home in payment for 'back rent' on the space they had never opened.
Next up to bat, Chef Scott Jacobson, and the formation of NOSH.
The Times Union carried a story by Dan McDonald on March 31st, 2006 ( http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/033106/enm_2492368.shtml )
Here's some news to nosh on. Nosh, at the corner of Ninth and Main Streets in Springfield, has replaced Henrietta's. Co-owners Craig Van Horn and chef Scott Jacobson are introducing an interesting lunch/dinner concept.
The concept of NOSH took off. and the local blogs and publications were filled with positive reviews of the new restaurant.
click here (http://youtube.com/watch?v=eQ3CXKXDlSk ) for a badly lit interview with Craig Van Horn, who identifies himself as a co-owner of nOSH.
Ingrid Green, a former partner of Van Horn's told MetroJacksonville.
"NOSH was really great! I didn't want to like the place after what Craig did to Justin and Dave, but it was really wonderful. I warned Scott what would happen, but he kept telling me that Craig wouldn't dare screw him over. That he had it all handled and there was no way that Craig could cheat him.
The food was AWESOME!, and I just ended up loving it. I thought to myself, 'THIS is going to work."
But then suddenly Craig screwed him over too."
Van Horn, who refers to Jacobson as "little Napoleon" demanded that Jacobson, an accomplished Chef with fusion sensibilities return to the burgers and fries menu of Henrietta's including the 'Van Horn Burger" referenced in Joey Marchy's video blog.
On June 8th, 2006, Dan McDonald's column announced the firing of Scott Jacobson less than three months after he was identified as an 'Owner'.
Jacobson was given nothing in return for his partnership shares, no profit sharing, no severance, no buyout.
Despite the increasingly familiar ring of this strategy: selling people on their ownership of the restaurant, then later identifying them as an 'employee' and firing them when new "investors" came along--this did not prevent new 'owners' Jeff and Erika Ware of Crush Bistro from getting taken in hook line and sinker.
In the meantime things had begun to sour with Streetscapes.
His partnership with Ingrid Green began on a pretty equal basis according to the pleasant and attractively blond young woman who was one of the early fans of Van Horn. However, it quickly became apparent that Van Horn had no intention of actually doing any of the work leaving Ingrid to try and manage the office while actively selling and marketing the properties that they had listed.
According to Green.
"So I told him that I couldn't do everything by myself and make it work, and he said why don't you hire Stephanie (Ingrid's talented and vivacious sister) to manage the place and we'll go a third/third/third (referring to percentages of the company).
So Stephanie came to work and she did all the graphic designs for the signs, built the web pages and managed the office. But then after she had already done all the work, we couldn't get Craig to sign any of the papers to give her her share."
Ingrid recounts that Van Harn began dipping into their bank accounts, removing money to pay for expenses in his other businesses.
"We would get this huge commission check for like six thousand, and we would go to cut a check for the agent, and there wouldn't be any money in the account from Craig having already spent it.
I have to give him credit, he was pretty good at replacing the money so that we could pay the agents, but it was crazy that he was taking the money. When Sam came into the business he put an end to it."
Eventually the level of trust between the Green Sisters and Van Horn had been so eroded that they decided to sell the company to another realty outfit.
"Thats when Craig really screwed us." I didn't find out until after they had already written it, that they had given a fifteen thousand dollar down payment check to Craig.
So I went in and talked to him and said, You need to give me my share of that money Craig, he told me that he owned fifty one percent of the company and that it didn't matter since 'the money was already spent'. So basically he just stole that fifteen thousand and that was the end of it.
Then he refused to recognize Stephanie's share of the money. He took 51 percent of the remaining money and I had to split my 49 % with my sister.
Illegal Liquor Sales at nOSH
Meanwhile back at the restaurant, Jeff and Erika Ware of Crush Bistro in Riverside had assumed control of nOSH, only to find things as shady and chaotic as all who had preceded them.
By July 21st, a little more than a month after they arrived, UrbanJacksonville posted that 9th and Main had lost its liquor liscense. Responses to the post revealed that the business hadn't actually had a liquor liscense at all, but had been using the leftover SRX liscense originally acquired by Henrietta's
It was only then that the 9th & Main LLC acquired a legitimate liscense to sell alcohol.
Meanwhile Lisa Thomas from Thee Imperial had taken over booking events and bands at the space.
After the departure of the Crush team, the restaurant went through a dizzying exchange of 'owners' and 'managers' including a stint as a very late night club whose parties were of the locked door, after 2am variety.
In June 2007, Boomtown was bought out of their lease in Hemming Park. They approached Van Horn about taking over the space and moving Boomtown back to Springfield.
Van Horn agreed and set a price of 6 thousand a month to lease the entire space, with a 12 thousand dollar deposit. Boomtown agreed under the proviso that Craig have nothing to do with the project, and Boomtown would maintain its own health and beer and wine license. They gave Craig the option of maintaining his own SRX licensing at 9th and Main, since all that required was that he simply pay the annual fee. Under these conditions, Van Horn suddenly changed the deal. He would need a 33 thousand dollar 'security' deposit instead.
Boomtown had no intention of giving Van Horn cash in this amount and turned down the deal.
Instead, Van Horn hired Scott Abrams, the former director of Improv Jacksonville to manage the facility. Abrams soon reported the exact same difficulties as everyone else, and began to believe that the only way for him to succeed would be to get Craig out of the operation of the business.
To that effect, he found a willing 'investor' in Barry Owens, the principal partner of The Chai House in San Marco, a struggling restaurant unlucky enough to be caught on Hendricks Avenue during a general loss of business following several years of road construction.
In September of 2007 Dan McDonald announced the following:
Chronicling the various business ventures there would take more space than I am allotted here, but the latest is that Barry Owens and Scott Abrams have taken over the bar and theater portion.
The restaurant portion will, for the time being, still serve lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The place is still called 9th & Main (although a name change could happen down the road), and Abrams said the bar and theater are open from 4 p.m. until business dies down Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. until whenever on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Sunday.
The Chai House Tea Company now provides the food on the bar side, but the team is going to specialize in pizza soon. They'll even be delivering.
There are plans for an '80s night on Mondays, Movie Night on Tuesdays and a Comedy Night on Thursdays.
Definitely set is the Wednesday Bike Night that begins Sept. 26. Abrams said they'll open the old garage doors to give the place the proper motorcycle atmosphere.
During football season, games will be the feature on Saturday and Sunday, with one of them projected on the bar's 18-foot screen.
Though they're already open, a grand opening is planned Friday, Oct. 5.
In the Meantime, Suzanne and Grace Justiss who had previously run Drayton's restaurant were brought in as 'partners' at the old Henrietta's location.
As with the other groups who had been ensnared in the machinations of 9th and Main, they were guaranteed profit shares and equity in the restaurant in return for labor and operational equipment. Grace Justiss developed a new menu and started taking austerity steps to control costs at the restaurant.
Suzanne Justiss told MetroJacksonville
"Oh yeah, he made big promises, and my mom worked without a paycheck for four and a half months, because she believed that she was going to get reimbursed from the partnership share. That of course, never happened and we were screwed."
Like so many others before them, the Justiss women found that their 'partnership' was suddenly being described as 'employment'. Barry Owens had found himself spending more and more money to attempt to turn a profit on the bar side, and after months of disappointing sales, decided to replace his putative partner, Scott Abrams, by hiring his favorite bartender from Bistro Aix, Tory Aunspach. It was Tory who informed the Justiss women that they were 'fired', regardless of whatever agreements they might have had to the contrary.
At about the same time Boomtown had announced their intention to open at a property leased from Chris Hionides across the street from their first space on Main Street.
After a discussion with Van Horn, Boomtown renewed the offer to take the space and resuscitate the reputation of the dining spot with a fresh new start and the loyal clientčle of the longstanding dinner theater.
Since their leased space on Main Street had several months before it would be fit to occupy, Boomtown agreed to a month to month lease with Van Horn, in order to give both sides an easy way out in case there was later disagreement, and without the intention that the lease would be a permanent thing.
To be honest, with all of the negativity and the shaky condition of Van Horn's finances, we didn't commit because we had no faith he would remain in control of the building, but for the success of our restaurant for very long. We also went in with our eyes open. We agreed to a percentage based performance contract and lease and let his accountants handle books (although we kept a separate set, of course)
Aunspach started working for Owens three days before Boomtown arrived to much ballyhoo on the blogs.
Boomtown took possession of the building on November 24th, and began remodeling the interior, operating the restaurant with Boomtown's traditional menu and importing parts of their entertainment schedule.
On February 14th the following email went out:
Anyone who guessed that Boomtown would last at 9th and Main less than three months won the betting pool.
Craig Van Horn, the owner of the building at 9th and Main has been increasingly desperate for money, especially after losing one of his key tenants, as made obvious by the FOR SALE sign in front of the Klutho Apartments next door.
Boomtown did quite well at 9th and Main, thanks in large part to the really wonderful neighborhood support and patronage of you, our long time friends and family!!! We were experiencing pretty giddy growth even during this time of the year when business is traditionally VERY slow (in fact the time from Jan 2 until St. Patrick's Day is known as 'The Dead Zone" for restaurants and clubs.)
However, true to his nature, Craig had two groups inside functioning off of his one liscense--- Boomtown and "The Rusted Hinge" or the club side---- and played both sides off against each other in a quest for additional 'investment' into his by now, legendary, real estate empire.
Naturally Boomtown refused to give Craig any money other than the percentage of our sales that he was entitled to, although when he made an offer to actually sell the building (something of actual value other than the nebulous 'investment' bull malarkey he usually peddles) our partners, Steve and Margot Kennedy made a substantial offer and set about doing due diligence. Naturally there were sales tax issues and a few other little glitches, but nothing to derail the deal.
As Craig started needing the money more, he allowed the tension to ratchet up between the two groups---as well as his usual tactic of renegotiating and attempting to rewrite his agreements---which led to even more tension.
The tasering and arrest of his bar manager, Tory Aunspach in an incident in Riverside after an all night 'party' at Ninth and Main only served to strengthen our resolve to purchase the property and be done with it.
However, on Saturday afternoon, Boomtown received a phone call from the blonde debtor in charge of Van Horniness Real Estate (craig) telling us that the Bar owners had come up with cash sufficient to settle his several money emergencies (around 50k i would suppose---the amount he was pressuring us to put into his accounts on 'good faith') and that he was working up a 'management restructure'----Barry and Tory would be immediately running the restaurant.
He did graciously offer me the 'position' of being his web designer and of 'directing' his marketing efforts.
Naturally the offer just kinda blew my skirt up. I asked him whether he didnt have a housecleaning position that I couldn't fill in for him.
After a couple of very um....intense, conversations, we agreed to settle things out on Monday day in the form of negotiations.
We were there on a month to month basis, mostly out of good will on our part in order to help out with the business and reputation of Main Street. We weren't really expecting it to be a permanent thing, and have been slowly chipping away at our space between 7th and 8th---and I figured that self interest at least would keep Craig within the bounds of 'legal'.
I miscalculated apparently.
Craig, suddenly acting on the premise that Boomtown never really opened at 9th and Main, and that I was actually just a 'chef' hired by 9th and Main, declared that he didnt even have to observe the lightning fast process of a month to month lease---you know....15 day notice and then its over.
This is of course, patently absurd. As evidenced by the fact that we completely redid the entire space and the space was filled with Boomtown's dining accoutrement's. Anyways on Monday, without our supervision or permission he seized Boomtown's property, including our art, electronics equipment and computers---not to mention a lock box with almost a thousand dollars cash. The statement was even made to the cops that he had NOIDEA that I had somehow snuck all of our equipment and furnishings in without him knowing..he presently has it under lock and key in the soon to be repossessed Klutho Building, and earlier today even refused to let Lee Harvey have access to his fairly expensive paintings.
"Its not a good day," he said.
Naturally, we have filed a civil suit against Van Horn, and this will doubtlessly be settled in court.
But I am afraid to report that we will not probably be open this week.
However, I did go into the situation with Craig with my eyes wide open----our commitment to Main Street is exactly the same as it was, we knew from the start that if Craig could find a way to screw it up, he would---so no surprise. Although to be honest I am shocked about the criminal behavior with my property.
That said, we have decided to litigate this if only because of the string of similar scams perpetrated by Craig on a number of local restaurateurs.
Prior to us, Crush, Nosh, Henrietta's, Draytons and Deborah Neary were all subjected to the same bait and switch followed by the same insane demands for 'investment' . All of them eventually found their 'partnerships' transformed into 'employee status' followed by 'firings'.
In the real world we feel this is commonly called fraud. a shell game designed to keep his real estate properties intact by squeezing the money out of a string of hopeful 'investors'.
Thank god we didn't give him money.
Although we will see if we get all of our property back.
Anyways, we arent going anywhere. The entire time we have been working on our actual space on Main Street between 7th and 8th and should be ready to go in 7 weeks or so.
See you there and thanks for all of your loyalty, love and support.
We feel it right back at you.
The suit brought by Boomtown and joined by several other victims in the string of scams is definitely an unwelcome development against the backdrop of the collapse of Craig's financing and the several notices of Foreclosure on file against his properties.
Says Ingrid Green
"To be honest, I don't know why he's not in jail yet. You would think that his investors would have done something about it by now."
Editorial by Stephen Dare