Restaurants forced to close

Queen Anne's Ototo and Polpetta restaurants, Teacup tea shop lose leases and must close

    The last day of 2011 was the last chance to enjoy a meal at Ototo Sushi or Polpetta Italian restaurant. 

    It was also be the last time anyone would sip a cup of tea at the Teacup, the tea shop that sits between the two eateries at the corner of Queen Anne Avenue North and Boston Street. 

    The two restaurants and teahouse have lost their leases and must vacate the premises. All three establishments were required to shut down their current locations. 

    Ototo Sushi’s owner Takashi Ogawa, who has run the restaurant for 10 years, said he was notified on Dec. 8 that he was to vacate. The other business owners were notified at about the same time. 

    Ogawa said he has put all of his money into the Ototo Sushi restaurant and is unable to move to a new location. 

    “How come they need to kick everyone out?” Ogawa asked last week. “I don’t have any money. I don’t know what I am going to do in January.”

    Over at the Teacup, former Queen Anne resident Laurie Wood and her mother, Marilyn, had just heard that the popular teahouse was closing.

    “I’m very disappointed,” Wood said. “I’ll miss this shop. It is the only tea shop around for quite a distance. It was such a homey little place.”

    Two doors south on Queen Anne Avenue North, the owner of the newly remodeled Polpetta, which means “meatball” in Italian, met with some family and friends to talk about any possible recourse on Thursday, Dec. 29. They didn’t really see any other way, except to close and possibly reopen at another location.

    “I wish everyone good luck,” said Enza Sorrentino, the owner of Polpetta. 

    The landlady, Susan Wanwig, whose family has for decades owned the two buildings that make up the quarter-block section that houses the restaurants, the teashop and a picture framing business, was unavailable for comment.

    However, Jeff Jones, the real estate broker handling the property said the restaurants and tea shop were behind in their rents. He maintained that Wanwig had been very understanding for a long time about the businesses not paying their rents, but eventually, she had to make a decision. He said there are no plans to change the property or bring in a large, national tenant, as had been rumored. 

    “This has been going on for a very long period of time and [Wanwig] has tried to work with the tenants,” Jones said. “It is just coincidental that these three leases are up at the same time. She cares about the community and is sensitive to the needs of her tenants, but it just became a situation where enough was enough.”

    It is unusual, especially in the current economic climate, that a landlady would force three tenants to leave a property at the same time. Rumors have been circulating that Wanwig may want to develop the property, bring in a national merchant of some sort or perhaps even sell.

    Jones said he has heard the rumors, but there is no mystery to what is happening at the property. He said it is just a case of tenants falling behind in their rent, nothing more. He said he is currently looking for new tenants and the publicity from the closing has resulted in one specialty coffee company calling to see if they could open a shop in the building.

    He said one issue that exacerbated the situation was that Polpetta would spend the money to remodel the restaurant, but not pay the back rent. 

    Ronald Holden, who is a friend of Sorrentino’s and a food columnist for this newspaper, said that the only thing they bought for the remodel was paint. Friends and family did the rest of the remodeling. Sorrentino is part of the same family that owns Mondello Ristorante and the Queen Margherita Pizzaria in Magnolia.

    Holden said that while they lament this closing Sorrentino would open another restaurant somewhere. 

    Ogawa said he wonders if this isn’t an attempt by Wanwig to raise rates in the building. Some nearby merchants are paying more than the approximately $30 per-square-foot, per-year rate that Ogawa pays. 

    Whatever the case on rents might be, Ogawa points out that now that the three businesses have been evicted, there will be no rent payments coming in at all, whether late or on time, until new tenants are found.

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