Landlord Tenant Dispute

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Will Deceus, part owner/manager, Food 4 Thought restaurant

Is Food For Thought
By Danielle Douglas
On the corner of Marcus Garvey Boulevard and Mac Donough Street, Food 4 Thought has established itself as one of the few and foremost health-food restaurants in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Open a little over a year, the black-owned caf‚ has offered the community an alternative to the fast-food restaurants that populate the area. Yet, with all businesses, there is bound to be bumps along the road to success. Presently, the owners of the establishment are in conflict with their landlord, Fred Wright.
Over a month ago, the proprietors received a Notice of Cure regarding alleged property violations. The notice stated that the owners failed to receive permission to construct the outdoor portion of the caf‚ and to paint the three murals on the exterior of the building. The notice went on to say that the proprietors had failed to provide proof of insurance; if the alleged violations are not rectified the landlord of the building has the right to revoke the restaurant’s ten-year lease.
     According to Wright, the problem came to a head when he told the restaurant owners last year that he intended to sell the building. Wright said he offered the proprietors the first right to buy in September of 2004, but never received word as to what they intended to do. Soon thereafter, the building went on the market and within months Wright accepted an offer from a buyer of color. The buyer was not pleased with the murals on the walls and as a condition of purchase wanted them removed. Although Will Deceus, one of the restaurant’s four owners, said he was aware of the impending sale, he and his partners were unable to purchase the building at the asking price (neither party disclosed said price). Irrespective of the sale, Deceus said he provided Wright with the insurance forms, which addresses one of the issues of the notice but still leaves the ramp and murals in contention. 
      Deceus said he was surprised to receive the warning since Wright purportedly had not brought the issue to his attention previously. A claim that Wright denies, “I asked him last year to cure the situation. The problem is he built the outdoor restaurant and ramp, which is a building -code violation.” However, according to the NYC Department of Planning’s Web site, sidewalk cafes are permissible in the zoning in which the property resides as long as the proprietor obtains a license from the Department of Consumer Affairs. Wright contends that Deceus and his partners neither obtained such a license nor asked his permission, a requirement that is stipulated in their lease. He maintains that he has been more than patient and generous with the owners of the restaurant, giving them a $600 a month discount on their rent. Yet, Deceus contends that his landlord has been negligent in responding to leaks in the ceiling and in the basement of the restaurant. Wright argues that the leak in the roof is actually the result of the proprietors tinkering with the boiler system causing a water backup. 
     Deceus, a local resident and graduate of Boys and Girls High School, is greatly concerned that he and his partners will lose their dream, as he believes the city is generally impartial to landlords. “When I graduated from Boys and Girls, they told us to go out into the world and add value, I went out into the world, found what’s good and brought it back here to add value, to which the community has responded well to,” said Deceus. Beyond its healthy menu of veggie burgers, wheat pancakes and protein shakes, Food 4 Thought has also established itself as a quasi-community center hosting job fairs, offering free Saturday tutoring and free boot camp workouts. The venue is constantly hosting art shows and spoken-word events at a low cost to the community. “We want our children to know their true heritage, their true purpose and their true position in life,” said Deceus.
     After formally responding to Wright’s notice, Deceus and his partners are awaiting a response from their landlord. Deceus stands firm on his position that he will not remove the murals or dismantle the ramp and outdoor caf‚.
     Wright, who owns several properties in the area and has been a staple in the community for the last 35 years, said he does not want to go to court. “I don’t want to see him go out of business. We don’t have to go to court. All [Will] has to do is provide the necessary papers for the restaurant because the buyer will not close until the problem is rectified.”