(Editor’s note: Steve Coomes and Terry Boyd contributed to this post.)
Major meltdown underway at Mozzaria restaurant.
Despite its owners’ sunny predictions and far-reaching ambitions for Mozzaria on Fourth Street Live!, it appears the Italian concept is in crisis.
Mozzaria was announced in an April 24 press release as “the first locally owned full service Italian restaurant to Fourth Street Live” that would have “a retail department (that) will sell house signature coffee as well as souvenirs,” as well as a “New York style delicatessen” … “the likes of Katz’s and Carnegie Deli” that would sell “sandwiches, salads and soups starting at New York deli 1960’s prices … .”
Problem was, the concept appears to have run into trouble in about a New York minute.
Insiders have mumbled to us for months that the concept was struggling from the start.
Now we have proof why: A Jefferson Circuit Court complaint filed by investor Matthew Saltzman in early July—about nine weeks after Mozzaria opened on May 2—that says the business’s Parmesan-encrusted claims were a lot of show backed by very little dough.
The complaint charges Mozzaria co-founder and CEO Matthew Antonovich with “making unauthorized payments, diverting assets to another business he manages in which he has an ownership stake.” The business is not named, but Antonovich is a co-owner of Mozz Enotca and Wine Bar at 455 E. Market St. between downtown and NuLu.
When called for comment, Antonovich said he currently is traveling and has other obligations to tend to, but requested a face-to-face meeting be scheduled as early as August 20, “when I’ll discuss all I can about my businesses.”
His partner, Michael Cooper, also co-founder in both businesses, was not named in the Mozzaria suit and did not return a call by press time.
Saltzman claimed in the complaint that despite May and June receipts of $160,000 and a $175,000 cash infusion, Mozzaria was not paying third-party creditors “in a timely fashion” including rent and back rent owned to Fourth Street Live owner The Cordish Companies, based in Baltimore.
Evidence filed in the case includes an email dated July 9 from Antonovich to Saltzman and Rand Kruger, Antonovich’s attorney, stating that Mozzaria was underfunded and had essentially run out of money.
“We have a severe cash flow crisis at Mozzaria due to underfunding the project,” Antonovich wrote. “We have run out of cash and Mozzaria can’t pay food today!”
(Interestingly, as recently as July 12, the restaurant advertised job openings for all front-of-the-house positions on Craigslist Louisville.)
In an agreed order date July 23, retired judge Ann Shake was appointed by the court arbitrator for the dispute, charged with providing both sides access “to any requested financial information.”
That was the final document filed in the dispute.
On the front burner and boiling over, however, is talk from insiders that Mozzaria was served eviction papers today. One source who spoke off the record, said a Mozzaria staffer told him about the notice and joked that he’d soon be needing a job.
Another insider who is a wholesaler to restaurants, said he’d known for some time that the business was struggling, so he ensured his business received payments COD.
“We were not going to leave anything there without being paid first,” the source said, adding that while providing products to Mozz, that restaurant also had to be placed on COD terms. “We’ve been burned badly before, so all I can say is, ‘Yippee! I got paid!’”
Cordish will decide the Mozzaria’s fate, say our sources. Cordish’s local property manager is Hogan Real Estate.
Mike Leonard, Hogan’s chief operating officer, did not return calls for comment.
Mozzaria opened after Red Star was evicted for non-payment of rent in October, 2011.
After that, Cordish executives began reaching out to local restaurateurs.
John Varanese, chef/owner at Varanese on Frankfort Avenue in Clifton, told IL he got an email solicitation from Hogan Real Estate about the Red Star Tavern space.
Varanese said the pitch, which he deleted, was not to him personally, but appeared to be a mass email.
Leonard sent us an email saying the company was considering local operators:
We are passionately committed to always finding the best possible operator, whether that be local, regional or national and, per our track record, upgrade the quality of our tenancy whenever we have the opportunity. Another great local operator – like Maker’s Mark – would be terrific. Fourth Street Live! enjoys the most attendance and sales in the region and we want the best.
In fact, the Maker’s Mark restaurant is not local, but owned by a New York City investor group connected directly to Cordish, with the restaurant, licensing the name from Maker’s Mark bourbon.
Chicago-based distiller Beam Inc., which owns the Maker’s Mark brand, is forbidden by federal law from owning a restaurant where alcohol is served.