A Gay Sports Bar, a Real Housewife, a Mess
LOS ANGELES (CN) - A film producer and a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills are embroiled in a legal tiff over a sports-theme gay bar.
Plaintiffs in the tangled, 38-page lawsuit in Superior Court are Lulu Restaurant Group, and Varsity Restaurant Group, and their owners Ryan Allen Carrillo and Andrew Gruver.
They sued the Professional Restaurant Group and five people, including movie producer/restaurateur Elie Samaha; "Real Housewives" actress Lisa Vanderpump and her husband Ken Todd; Professional Restaurant Group managing member Freddy Braidy; and Edward Frumkes, who is described as the former president of Warner Bros. International Theatrical Distribution & Marketing.
In essence, the lawsuit claims that Samaha backed out on a deal to fund a sports-theme gay bar, allowing Vanderpump to snag the building for herself.
Samaha has produced dozens of films and video games since his Hollywood debut in 1995 with "The Immortals." His other production credits include "The Boondock Saints," "Battlefield Earth" and "Tristan & Isolde."
He also owned several night clubs, including the Roxbury and Grauman's Chinese Theater, according to the complaint.
Vanderpump and husband own 26 restaurants and bars, including Villa Blanca, which opened in 2009, and SUR in West Hollywood, according to her personal website.
The plaintiffs claim Samaha reneged on his agreement to invest in their restaurant and secure them a building.
"In 2009, Gruver and Carrillo developed a unique concept for a new venture in West Hollywood, California named Bar Varsity, a gay-oriented, sports-themed restaurant and nightclub," the complaint states. "They commenced scouting for a location and initially submitted a proposal to lease the premises then occupied by another restaurant, 'Fat Fish,' located at 616 North Robertson Boulevard, West Hollywood, California."
Carrillo and Gruver say in the lawsuit that they have more than 15 years experience managing restaurants and nightclubs, working for SBE Entertainment Group and its restaurant The Abbey.
After they applied to lease the Fat Fish premises, their real estate agent told them the lease owner, Samaha, would not be renewing the Fat Fish lease and wanted to meet them in person to discuss their venture, according to the complaint.
Gruver and Carrillo say they met Samaha a few weeks later at his house.
"During the meeting, defendant Samaha reviewed the cost of the lease at the Fat Fish location and told plaintiffs that he would be happy to lease the space to them if they wanted it. Defendant Samaha then represented that he was impressed with plaintiffs' resumes and had something better in mind. He told plaintiffs that he was the owner of the master lease of the space in West Hollywood then occupied by a coffee house, Java Detour, located at 8948 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, California 90069. Defendant Samaha also stated that he was a partner in Java Detour with his brother Demetri Samaha.
"Defendant Samaha represented that he wanted to be partners with plaintiffs Carrillo and Gruver in developing the Java Detour location into a restaurant and nightclub entertainment center. Defendant Samaha told plaintiff Carrillo that he loved plaintiffs' concept of a casual dining gay sports bar theme. Samaha inquired about the status of plaintiffs' investors and represented that he would partner with plaintiffs in a 50-50 relationship if he were the only cash investor."
Carrillo and Gruver say they hesitated to accept Samaha's offer because the Java Detour involved high startup costs, including building a kitchen. They claim Samaha told them he would cover startup investment and get his brother, who owned a construction company, to "cut them a deal on construction costs."
"Defendant Samaha again represented to plaintiffs at that meeting that even if plaintiffs Carrillo and Gruver didn't raise any money at all for Bar Varsity, he had enough people who would invest in the project to pay for it, especially with plaintiffs' names attached to it, and that he would also personally invest in the venture," the complaint states.
At the end of the meeting, Carrillo and Gruver say, they signed an agreement to lease the Java Detour from Samaha for seven years at $4,000 a month in exchange for a $500,000 investment from Samaha. Since Samaha agreed to fund their restaurant, they say, they quit their jobs and "invested their money and hundreds of hours of their time into the plans, permitting, design, development and promotion of Bar Varsity."
After spending more than a year designing logos, developing menus, opening bank accounts, meeting with potential investors and seeking permits, Carrillo and Gruver say, they "finally obtained" approval from the West Hollywood Planning Commission to expand the Java Detour and get it nightclub status in June 2011.
"Plaintiffs' success in obtaining a permit to utilize the Java Detour location as a nightclub greatly increased the value of the master lease for the Java Detour location, as well as the value of the real property of the Java Detour location itself," the complaint states.
Then Samaha got cold feet, the plaintiffs say.
"Inexplicably to plaintiffs, after the Planning Commission approved the Bar Varsity's plans and permits, communication by defendants to plaintiffs started to slow," the complaint states. "Samaha had represented to plaintiffs that he would start funding the project so that demolition and renovation could move forward, but he failed to do so. Instead, defendants Samaha and Frumkes started to pressure plaintiffs to obtain investors in Bar Varsity. However, due to the failure of Samaha to make the initial $500,000 investment in Bar Varsity as he previously agreed to do, plaintiffs' potential investors declined to invest in Bar Varsity."
Carrillo and Gruver say they tried many times to contact Samaha and find out what was going on, "but defendants were evasive and failed to respond to plaintiffs' attempts at communication."
"On or about February, 2013, plaintiffs Carrillo and Gruver first saw a posting at the Java Detour location with the name P.U.M.P. Lounge on it. Thereafter, plaintiffs learned that defendants Lisa Vanderpump and Ken Todd had leased the Java Detour Location," the complaint states.
After seeing the sign, Carrillo and Gruver say, they sent a letter to the defendants demanding a meeting to discuss their original agreement.
"After this letter was sent, plaintiff Carrillo received a phone call from Carol Braidy, sating that the Java Detour location had been leased to defendants Lisa Vanderpump and Ken Todd (the 'Vanderpump defendants') and indicating that the Vanderpump defendants were not partners with Samaha," the complaint states.
Carol Braidy is not a party to the complaint.
Carrillo and Grover claim the defendants' failure to invest in their restaurant as promised damaged their reputations, hurt their ability to attract investors and cost them more than $4 million in salaries and profits.
They seek $4 million in compensatory damages, plus punitive and exemplary damages for breach of contract, constructive fraud, and deceit. They also want an injunction preventing any further construction on the P.U.M.P. Lounge, a court order forcing the defendants to honor their agreement to fund the plaintiffs' bar, and restitution and disgorgement of ill-gotten gains.
They are represented by Joseph Adams of West Hollywood.
Vanderpump and Todd denied any wrongdoing in the matter.
"We had no prior knowledge of Ryan Carrillo and Andrew Gruver or their claim," they said in a statement. "We took the lease in good faith seven months ago and all of our applications and notices have been posted publicly. Any issue will be between them and the property owner."