Reporters don’t hear this very often:ΓΆβ‚¬Λ†“Ours is a sordid tale that speaks to the darkest shadows of entrepreneurship, civil court litigation, breach of trusts and the sociopath ‘nouveau riches’ elements in Fort Greene,” Christian Dennery told me.
Dennery, the former owner of the much-loved Liquors restaurant, e-mailed this missive before meeting me at a Bedford–Stuyvesant cafe last weekend. He had agreed to describe how his bustling establishment disappeared without any warning, and with nary a trace.
The explanation involved a swamp of legal procedures and difficult-to-substantiate allegations. But here, Stoop readers, are its bare bones:
Dennery and his wife owned and ran Liquors, on DeKalb Avenue, from 2000 to 2006. The restaurant was the brunch spot of choice for the neighborhood’s burgeoning bobo population. But when Dennery expanded his business to include two more restaurants — Bodegas, on Fulton Street and Clinton Avenue; and Lewis and Ruby’s, in Bedford–Stuyvesant (both now defunct) — he over-reached.
And that’s when his business, and his relationship with his landlords, began to resemble a Shakespearean feud, complete with greed, backstabbing, impassioned players and endless reinterpretation.
“We decided to sell Liquors and focus on Bodegas,” said Dennery. “We were in the middle of selling it, when we found out that [our landlords] had begun separate negotiations with friends of our buyers. Our landlords were saying they were the owners! The same day we found that out, our landlords locked us out.
“We sued them immediately.”
A court decision last September determined that “this was indeed an illegal lockout.” But, the landlords — Uche Alozie and Donald Matheson of Almat Group — tell a different story.
Alozie claims that he had every right to negotiate with would-be buyers because he was a part-owner of the restaurant (by means of a “gentleman’s agreement” that can’t be confirmed). He also contends that he merely placed a new padlock on the door of Liquors after the manager left it unlocked. He said he called and e-mailed Dennery’s wife with the new combination. Unfortunately, he gave them the wrong information.
“I believe this was a set-up all along, to look for a technicality for an illegal lockup,” Alozie told The Stoop.
A few months later, Alozie counter-attacked, filing a lawsuit against Dennery and his wife seeking back rent, lost investments in Liquors and Bodegas, and $2 million in damages. The suit was dismissed.
And so, Dennery and his wife proceeded to counter-counter-attack, suing Alozie for defamation and lost revenue. So far, the courts have supported Dennery.
Amid the miasma of legalese, a couple of things remain clear: an empty storefront on prime DeKalb Avenue that could be serving the Bellini set has sat idle, and the friendship between Dennery and Alozie has turned as bitter as burnt coffee.
Alozie continues to claim that Dennery and his wife merely devised a “smokescreen to extricate themselves from their [debts].”
Meanwhile, Dennery continues to lament the loss of his restaurants, and his reputation.
“It will take us years of our lives to get through all this,” said Dennery.
Fort Greene’s pretty damn cool. The evidence: Wilco keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen, who lives near Smooch cafe, regularly performs in the Carlton Avenue coffee joint as part of a solo project called “Pronto.” …
If you’re brave of heart, and cheap of wallet, you can have your taxes done (for free!) by a Long Island University accounting student. LIU’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program has offered this service to taxpayers earning less than $40,000 a year for nearly four decades. Call (718) 780-4043. …
Want to know more about Fort Greene and Clinton Hill’s architecture? Lucky for you, the Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment has two upcoming tours that will run you $13 each. The Clinton Hill tour is on April 14, Fort Greene on April 15. Call (718) 788-8500 x 208.