NEW TWIST: Restaurant eviction may not be the slam dunk The Greene thought it was

The Greene Town Center’s eviction lawsuit against the owners of Choe’s Asian Gourmet restaurant has taken a new turn.

Greene County Common Pleas Judge Michael Buckwalter ruled in December that the most recent owners of Choe’s Asian Gourmet restaurant at 4394 Juniper Way had violated their lease agreement with The Greene and awarded the retail center full access to the property. The action was taken after the restaurant’s operators failed to respond in a timely manner to the lawsuit, according to court documents.

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However, Dayton attorney Eugene Robinson entered the case after the judge’s ruling, representing the restaurant’s operators, and on Jan. 18, Robinson asked the judge for additional time to respond to the lawsuit on behalf of his clients.

And just last week, Judge Buckwalter granted the attorney two weeks to respond on behalf of the owners of Choe’s Asian Gourmet. Robinson — who has declined to comment on the case — must file his response by Feb. 21, and the judge made it clear in his ruling that no further extensions to the deadline will be granted.

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It would be an unusual move to reverse the decision to allow The Greene entry into the restaurant, which has not served customers for several weeks. The Greene’s general manager has said the restaurant is in the process of being turned over to previous owners to reopen under a new name. But the case remains open, and the judge’s extension of time opens the door at least a crack to revisiting the eviction ruling.

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A lot of money is at stake. Attorneys for The Greene have asked the judge to award the retail center $383,973 from the owners of Choe’s Asian Gourmet. That amount includes $68,600 in past-due rent and late fees, $56,500 to cover costs of preparing the property to re-lease, and $257,500 in “accelerated rent difference” — basically, the difference of the rent that had been due from the most recent owners through the lease term scheduled to end in September 2020 and the new tenant’s lease. Another $1,300 was tacked on for repairs and cleaning.

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An application to transfer the liquor licenses of the restaurant to a new ownership team that would do business as "Ace Asian Cafe" has been filed with the Ohio Division of Liquor Control. Steve Willshaw, general manager of The Greene, said in court documents that The Greene "worked diligently to find a new tenant for the space and (has) secured a new tenant that will begin paying rent in June 2018."

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The most recent manager of Choe’s Asian Gourmet told this news outlet earlier this month that business had been slow late last year in part because foot traffic was down in the restaurant’s section of The Greene. She said she attempted to re-negotiate the terms of her lease but instead was ordered to vacate. She said some of the restaurant’s problems stemmed from a disgruntled former employee.

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A lawsuit was filed in Nov. 21 in Greene County Common Pleas Court claimed that the limited liability corporation that was operating Choe’s Asian Gourmet owed more than $49,000 in rent and utilities that had accumulated since July. A “notice to vacate” was delivered to the restaurant eight days earlier, notifying the restaurant operators that eviction proceedings could be filed unless the arrears were paid within three days.

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