Must Bar’s Robbery-Turned-Lease Dispute – UPDATED

[Scroll down for updates to the story, including The Must’s official statement]

Over the weekend, one of my favorite bars in the city, The Must on 5th between Main and Spring, seemingly was looted of its liquor and furniture.  According to a note posted on The Must’s doors sometime between then and Sunday morning when I stopped by: “[A]t approximately 2:45am, a truck pulled up in front of Weeneez and proceeded to empty the contents of The Must.  There was no forced entry.  Due to the holiday weekend[,] we are unable to bring the KNOWN perpetrators’ to justice until Tuesday when government agencies will reopen.”  This means that my beloved bar’s excellent wine selection and comfortable, homey furniture (possibly including the board games that The Must keeps on hand for those of us who need to engage in competitive games in order to break the ice on awkward first dates) were taken – but to where?  Full note is below, followed by a lot of starch, because this plot thickens:

Neighboring fine art gallery owner Bert Green was first to publicly oust Julie Rico (owner of Weeneez next door to The Must and master leaseholder to both premises) as the culprit.  The accusation was confirmed by Rico herself, in an email to Blogdowntown.  According to Rico, the so-called robbery simply was the result of a change in ownership, with a new owner(s) now holding the master lease for both The Must and Weeneez.  She “of course” was within her legal rights “to do what we did” – i.e., empty The Must at 2:45am, apparently without giving notice to either the owners of The Must or the premise’s onsite manager.  She noted that The Must’s possessions were “placed in storage” (save the game boards!!).  Meanwhile, Twitterer DickTerrific posted a picture of a note posted inside The Must declaring the bar closed, and that the “premise will re-open under new management as JP Lounge on August 9, 2010.”  As captured by Ed Fuentes at Blogdowntown, another note was posted on street-side of The Must’s door giving notice of the fact that the lease between Rico and the building was terminated effective July 3, 2010.

The Must maintains that a crime was committed.  Coly Den Haan, one of the owners of The Must, told me late last night (Sunday) that, as far as they’re concerned, “[W]e have been robbed.  Our personal property has been taken without our consent or knowledge … We are perplexed and [devastated] by the recent events.”  They resolved to be strong, however:I’m expecting a statement from Julie Rico sometime today, so I will update the post when I receive it. The games have just begun. UPDATED [10:30am]: I received Rico’s press release this morning, as well as additional comments from Coly.

The press release states, in part, “Weeneez, LLC today announces the sale that changes ownership of its restaurant operations in downtown Los Angeles, California.  Majority owner Weeneez, lessee of the premises at which The Must Wine bar also operated, concluded the sell with an unidentified third party after  negotiations between Weeneez and The Must Wine Bar were unsuccessful.”

Apparently, The Must and Julie Rico were involved in a business dispute over the last year; their various matters have been submitted to arbitration for resolution.  Weeneez’s attorney, as quoted in the release, explains, “[I]n this situation it was increasingly clear that the partners were not able to co-exist in a safe environment.”

Thus (using the term “thus” loosely, because I am not sure if this necessarily follows), the subsequent removal of their property: “Weeneez notified The Must of an intended move-out by letter to their attorney dated July 1, 2010.  The move-out occurred July 3.  Notices were posted on the doors stating where [The Must’s] property was being stored.”

Assuming that this “letter dated July 1, 2010” was hand-delivered that day, the most The Must received was two days’ notice.   Not quite adequate, I think; I’m trying to get additional information from Rico or her firm as to why there was such short notice.

The unidentified third party has been identified as “David Holtzman”; Coly got wind of Rico’s position on the robbery/move-out this morning, and followed-up with me via email, stating that Rico’s partner Sid Carter and Holtzman “did hire movers to come in the middle of the night a little after we had closed and proceed to strip EVERYTHING, from the furniture to our computer and yes even the games [ed note: Gah! The games!!!]. We were give NO notice.”

Coly points out that the whole thing, from the midnight removal to the fact that it occurred on a holiday weekend when everyone (including anyone in Simpson Housing, which owns their building) to the courts are pretty much out of reach until Tuesday, when all return to work, business as unusual.  Apparently, Rico “even cashed our July rent check!”

It’s a dark day, but Coly, bless her heart, reaffirms the blue sign outside their door: “The only good thing about all of this, is that this is the end of the line, we will not just simply walk away from anything, our financial investment and our investment to the community.  … As truly horrible as this all is we really have to thanks the community for its support, it has been heart warming and overwhelming, first round is on us!”

MORE UPDATES [11:40am]: Coly just told me that if notice indeed was sent to their lawyer, “he did not receive it”; that said, he is on vacation because this is, you know, a holiday weekend.  She also stated that the notice of the change in ownership “was posted at the same time they took all of our things and changed our locks. We couldn’t have entered even if we wanted to.”  Apparently, there was no forced entry because the movers “entered from the [W]eeneez location[.]”  To boot,  “They used bolt cutters to get into our locked wine cages.”

This stinks worse than wine that has turned.

MORE MORE UPDATES [2:45pm] Julie Rico posted two comments on Blogdowntown’s raging discussion over the incident.  You can read the whole thing in its entirety here and here; essentially, she justifies her actions by accusing The Must’s owners of refusing to work with her:

“[I]t was always our intention to work with these people. But it just did not work out. I needed to make changes to Weeneez to make it more effective. I needed to work closely with them to do it. Well they never allowed this, so we had no choice but to sell the business. We were dying here. It is not the fault of the new business owner. It is because we had a monster on our hands and we needed to get out from under it.”

I’m also not sure how this is relevant, but she re-raises an Eater LA post last year that accused The Must owners of unsanitary and unsavory food handling habits.  (The accusation was debunked by the The Must owners when the LA Times followed up on the story.).  As to why the move-out occurred in the dead of night, Rico explains “We needed to make this happen with the least amount of disturbance from crazy people. Also, as you may or may not know this corner is very busy. We needed to make this happen so that we would not be disturbed in doing so.”  (Notably, Rico does not explain why all this occurred without giving adequate notice to The Must, or why no unlawful detainer action was filed before seizing “back” the premises or locking The Must out of its bar.).  Finally, Rico states that The Must was well aware that Weeneez LLC was “considering a market transaction.  They also made the first offer, which was an unreasonable offer.”  Coly told me via email that they have “offered numerous times to buy [Rico/Weeeneez] out but they felt we didn’t offer them enough money.”

Casey Irvine, one of the other owners of The Must, wrote in response to Rico’s post here, contesting Rico’s accusations.  She reiterates Coly’s earlier email to me that Rico cashed their July rent check “two days before they locked us out.”  Adding to the estimated damages, “We are fairly sure that our property was damaged with how they removed it. Fridge’s need to be un-plugged for hours before they’re moved. Wine needs to stay at a certain temperature.”  Yes, I seriously doubt the movers placed the precious wine inventory in the proper wine storage facility.

Coly expects to release The Must’s official statement soon.  What a nightmare for everyone involved.

UPDATE [5:30pm]: The Must’s official statement will come tomorrow.  Per their tweet:

UPDATED 7/6/10 HIGH NOON: The Must’s official statement was released this morning; the entire text can be found on the bar’s website here.  Highlights:

– Regarding the contract between The Must and Sid Carter and Julie Rico, owners of Weeneez, LLC, which own The Must’s space: A five-year contract was signed on November 5, 2008.  The contract was to be terminated in January 2012, with an option to renew for an additional 5 years.

– Regarding the actual heist:  As mentioned above, no one from The Must received any prior notice that Rico or Carter would  remove their belongings and lock them out.  The Must “paid its rent as usual on June 30. It locked its doors as usual at 2:00 a.m. on July 3rd. The move-out occurred July 3rd at approximately 2:45am. Julie Rico, Sid Carter and the supposed ‘new owner’, David Holtzman, hired movers to strip The Must of everything including furniture, wine, food, computers and documents. The owners, Den Haan and Thomas were notified by their restaurant manager, Casey Irvine, the next morning that The Must had been stripped of everything. Den Haan and Thomas were not notified of the apparent changes in ownership of Weeneez LLC.”

– Regarding their love for downtown despite the sequence of events: “The Must is Coly, Rachel, Casey, and Eric, our employees and our community. We are not going anywhere, we will always be downtown. This IS our home.”

… AND FINALLY [7/7 7PM]Blogdowntown has some excellent, as-neutral-as-possible coverage of the post-weekend activities.  According to that article, The Must filed for a temporary restraining order yesterday in arbitration (i.e., asked a neutral third party to stop anything related to the eviction until a decision regarding the who-what-why of the above leasing issues is made).  Meanwhile, as posted yesterday, there will be The Must Aid Fundraiser benefit on Saturday night, with all proceeds going to The Must’s (ex)-employees’ lost wages.  Full details of the fundraiser can be found here.

12 thoughts on “Must Bar’s Robbery-Turned-Lease Dispute – UPDATED”

  1. uhm “self help” is never justified in these disputes, especially considering the date and time of the “midnight move out”. there is obviously no “good faith” in these actions and unless there is a (recorded?) “bill of sale” for the personalty stored on premises (not to mention any “fixtures” removed) this is gonna end up very very nasty

  2. I imagine there are significant differences between residential and business rent/lease laws, but in the case of the former, if a landlord gave a tenant 3 days notice, this would a. mean 3 business days, and b. even then, would only start the clock for the eviction process. I also believe a sheriff or other law enforcement would have to be on hand during the physical entry and move out of property.

    Regardless, I see a whole lot of bad faith on Julie Rico’s part.

  3. This is fascinating stuff. Please continue to update as new information is updated. I will be watching to see how it unfolds.

  4. Bert Green is correct; this is theft and a serious breach of ethics. Communication is everything as Julie Rico’s actions are completely covert . Much love to Coly and Rachel as I hope The Must will be back soon!

  5. I’m new to LA, but I’ve heard great things about The Must, and I can definitely say they will have my business. I hope Julie Rico ends up with some jail time, and you can pretty much guarantee she torpedoed any chance Weeneez will survive, or that she will ever own a business in this town again.

    I hope an epic shitstorm of karma are coming the way of her and the new owner.

  6. Hello, Citizens,
    If this is still a country where one is presumed innocent til proven guilty, then why do all these negative allegations about Julie Rico persist? I have known Ms. Rico for over two decades and three galleries, and I can say without any doubt that I have never known Julie to be dishonest or unethical. Far from it, she has been personable, kind, and gracious. She is a true friend of the arts community. Why is she automatically to blame for the restaurant or the Must being closed abruptly? If I were her, I’d be looking for a lawyer, all right … to sue all these detractors for libel.

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