The ongoing dispute over small business rights in Malibu escalated last week when the co-owner and executive chef at Savory Restaurant at Point Dume Village suddenly closed, citing a lease disagreement with Village landlord and Savory co-owner Zan Marquis.
The closure sparked a war of words between Savory founder Paul Shoemaker and Marquis. On Friday, 30 residents protested outside Savory and neighboring Point Pizza Restaurant, which is also closing after failing to reach terms with Marquis. Protesters eventually confronted the shopping center’s property manager about the recent lease disagreements, accusing Marquis of bullying tactics.
Shoemaker, who opened Savory in July 2010, said he decided to close up shop after a “long and hard battle” with Marquis because he did not want to cede further control to the landlord, who is also a part-owner in the restaurant.
“I was forced to expand my business too fast…the landlord pushed me to obtain a full liquor license, build out a patio, install outdoor heaters,” Shoemaker said. “‘Raise your prices,’ that’s what it was all about. ‘Charge more money, [customers] can spend it.’”
Marquis maintains that he had invested thousands of dollars into Savory to help the restaurant be successful.
“Shoemaker wanted me to invest more money in Savory on top of the $600,000 I had already invested,” Marquis said in an email to The Malibu Times. “But Savory was losing money after two years in business.”
A representative of Shoemaker’s said Marquis’ statement that he invested $600,000 in the restaurant was not true.
Last week, after Shoemaker did not pay his $15,000 November rent, the two sides had a falling out leading to Shoemaker’s departure. Shoemaker said the monthly rent rate was also a key component leading to Savory’s closure.
“We had been negotiating rent ever since the lease was signed [in March 2010],” Shoemaker said. “My rent went up a lot every month. I’m ending it now. It has to get to a point where the business itself has to sustain and that wasn’t happening.”
The closure marked the second restaurant at Point Dume Village and the third local Malibu restaurant to announce its closure in recent weeks. Point Pizza owner Hye Song Oh also failed to renew her lease with Marquis and is set to close doors at the end of this year. Guido’s Italian Restaurant is also closing due to an inability to reach an agreement with Malibu Village owner Matt Khoury. The current rent at Guido’s is $25,000 per month.
After it was confirmed Point Pizza would not be returning, Marquis said its space would be filled by a second, organic iteration of D’Amore’s Famous Pizza, a small regional chain restaurant which also has a location in east Malibu.
Marquis plans on trying to have a local business owner take over Savory’s vacated space.
“We are interviewing four groups right now, all local,” Marquis said in email. “We hope to make an announcement soon.”
Khoury said he was in talks with a local business owner to take over the Guido’s space.
Many have complained that excessive rent prices in the city’s shopping centers have forced beloved establishments out of businesses and led to an oversaturation of high-end clothing stores where few locals shop.
They argue that corporate-owned shops and restaurants deprive Malibu of its traditional character and appeal.
“I think Malibu needs restaurants like Savory…it needs community and that’s what I’ve realized,” Shoemaker reflected. “I’ve grown up in L.A. where there’s so many restaurants. What I’ve learned out here is the power of community. Communities come together and it sets an example for the future.”
Shoemaker said he would be willing to open another restaurant in Malibu, but not at Point Dume Village. He currently has two other Los Angeles restaurant projects in the works.
On Tuesday evening, as The Malibu Times went to press, the Malibu City Council discussed an ordinance aimed at protecting locally owned stores. Shoemaker and several community activists, including members of the Preserve Malibu Coalition, were expected to attend the meeting and urge the City Council to move forward with protections on small businesses.
City Attorney Christi Hogin has warned that the law concerning a retail formula or business diversification ordinance is complicated and somewhat uncertain, and could potentially make Malibu vulnerable to lawsuits.
Knowles Adkisson contributed to this report.