I was saddened, but not particularly surprised, by the closing of the Peachtree Restaurant in the Power & Light District on December 5. When I reviewed that restaurant nearly two years ago, I saw some problems -- not insurmountable problems, mind you -- that concerned me.
But there were bigger problems -- unknown to most of us -- that the restaurant's owners, the Willis family, faced. Vera Willis, the president of the company, recently explained those issues in an e-mail sent to customers.
One of those customers forwarded a copy of the e-mail to The Pitch. The purpose of the letter, writes Vera Willis, "is to set the record straight and address misconceptions surrounding the Peachtree."
Willis explains that after closing the 18th and Vine location in January of 2008, the family decided against discussing the reasons for the closing with the community. That decision, Willis says, "was one of the greatest mistakes of my career."
"During my silence, lies and misconceptions in regards to why we left proliferated (in) the African-American community. Almost three years later, customers continue to ask, 'Why did you leave 18th and Vine?' Over the years, my life (has) always been an open book with my loyal customers and that's why I decided to write this letter to finally clear the air."Willis does, indeed, "clear the air" about many of the business decisions made by her and her son, Roy Wilmore, over the past few years: leaving the Jazz District location, opening and closing the Power & Light venue, closing the short-lived Lee's Summit restaurant, and the way she feels her company was treated by the executives at Cordish (who offered her, says Vera, "an ambiguous amended lease that violated every right known to man").
Dear Peachtree customers:
Regretfully the Peachtree closed December 5, 2010 in the Power & light
district. The Peachtree management and staff cannot change the
disappointments of the past, but we at the Peachtree are excited about
the future. The purpose of this letter is to set the record straight
and address misconceptions surrounding the Peachtree.
18th & Vine:
January 2008, we closed the 18th & Vine location and decided against
discussing the reasons for closing with the community. That was one
of the greatest mistakes of my career. During my silence, lies and
misconceptions in regards to why we left proliferated the African
American community. Almost three years later, customers continue to
ask "why did you leave the 18th & Vine?" over the years, my life as
always has been an open book with my loyal customers, and that's why I
decided to write this letter to finally clear the air.
The reasons are numerous and impossible to address in a three page
letter. However, the decision to leave 18th & Vine was a hard but
necessary decision. The Peachtree was located there for six years,
five with a lease and one without. I sent two formal letters
requesting to negotiate a new lease with Denise Gilmore, president of
JDRC. Denise started the negotiations after I had signed the lease
with Power & Light. The Power and Light district location was leased
for Roy, my son, who wanted to remain close to the African American
community and felt African Americans should have a presence in the P&L
district. The P&L district is not why we left 18th & Vine, and we
were not staying if the lease with P&L was not initiated.
"The Willis' were given taxpayer dollars, fled the area, and never
invested a dime personally" is another misconception in the community.
In fact, we paid $10,000 in rent for almost five months prior to
selling one dinner, and JDRC accepted the payments. That is simply
not true; Lavell and I lost and invested half a million dollars and
more at 18th & Vine. The Peachtree's rental payments ranged from
$6000 to $10,500 per month at 18th & Vine and were paid in full when
the least expired. Moving on to the Lee's summit location...
Lavell and I purchased the Lee's Summit property for our grandson
Jason and his wife Chareka. The building, when purchased, was
appraised at over 2,000,000. The value of the building dropped
drastically when the economy collapsed. The Lees Summit customers and
Buffet customers were virtually the same, and the location was
terrible. The building was located directly behind Borders Bookstore.
I contacted the management of the shopping center, requesting to
place the Peachtree's name on the entrance of the shopping centersign, same as the previous owners of the Fritz Grill had done. The
shopping center refused, stating that it was unfair to other tenants
with visible signage.
Lavell and I had an opportunity to rescind the property and walk away.
Directing the customers back to the buffet on Eastwood Trafficway.
Lavell and I viewed the opportunity to rescind as a blessing, since
the property's value had decreased drastically.
Power and Light District:
Due to ongoing legal issues, I can only address the following... The
lease was signed November 2007, and the Peachtree opened for business
November 2008. Prior to opening the restaurant, the dress code
controversy was in full swing. The economy was on a spiral downward,
and parking was a joke. All of the above affected the restaurants
performance. Customers who frequented the buffet bluntly stated that
they would never visit the P&L district for various reasons.
While fighting all of the elements to survive daily, the Cordish
Company was busy increasing other charges, such as $4750 per month for
real estate taxes. Cordish increased the monthly cam charges to $4000
per month, in addition to increasing rental payments to $19,800 per
month for a 5000 square foot restaurant upstairs. Initially, when the
upstairs space was rented, Cordish stated all the street level
property was leased and unavailable. Cordish has stated that they
made a substantial investment in the Peachtree, that it may remain in
the city. Simply not true. When the Peachtree opened for business,
Cordish owed the peachtree $135,000 in tenant finish allowance that
was scheduled for payout in 30 days. Cordish escalated the rental
payments to absorb the $135,000 credit and has consistently refused to
provide historical documentation substantiating these charges.
Business downtown was increasing prior to the Jazzy Jeff incident, but
after that incident, the restaurant started to spiral downward. As
the restaurant was struggling, Cordish was increasing the rental
payments. A number of businesses in the P&L district are owned by
Cordish, or either partners with Cordish. Some business located in
the district have not paid lease payments in years and are
supplemented by your tax dollars, to the tune of millions, according
to a high level previous city administrator. James and I requested a
lease reduction, same as other tenants in the district, only after
Cordish refused to submit historical documentation justifying the
charges. Cordish offered an ambiguous amended lease that violated
every right known to man, but we refused the lease and decided to
The bankruptcy was filed to protect our property from Cordish, who
obviously escalated the least to increase the debt and confiscate
property owned by James and I, eventually owning us. January 2009l, I
met with Sharon Sanders Brooks at the restaurant and informed her of
the double standards in the P&L district. A month ago, I wrote a
letter to the Mayor and city council requesting the same
considerations as the other businesses. To date, councilman Ed Fords
assistant and Sharon Sanders Brook, called with any real solution to
the problem, and fully aware of the special deals with the restaurant
owned by Cordish.
After fifteen years of conducting business in the community and
providing gainful employment, the peachtree was served on a silver
platter to Cordish by your elected officials without as much as a
telephone call to the owners. When you cast your vote next year, remember the twenty five jobs lost at Christmas 2010. In the future,
when Cordish hosts free concerts in the KC Live block area to lure
African Americans to the P&L district to take pictures and purchase
their alcohol, remember the twenty five jobs that were lost.
I am not upset about leaving the P&L district; I realize the lease was
going to be structured to only benefit the Cordish company. The
peachtree was never going to earn real revenue in the P&L district.
Each event hosted at the restaurant to earn additional capital,
Cordish complained unless the event was scheduled by them. What I've
shared with you in this letter is only a tip of the iceburg. I am
speaking out because our community deserves better.
I am looking forward to enhancing our operations at the Eastwood
Trafficway to include a la Carte items, refocusing and developing my
brand. I fully understand the difference between "success" and "good
success." In the past, I've had "success." Now I'm seeking "peace"
and "good success." Thank you for your time and for listening;
hopefully someone will learn from my mistakes.
Vera S. Willis,