Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Peachtree Restaurant owners explain their Power & Light demise in scathing letter to customers

Posted By on Tue, Jan 25, 2011 at 1:30 PM

The P&L Peachtree Restaurant was affected, the owners say, by the dress-code controversy.
  • The P&L Peachtree Restaurant was affected, the owners say, by the dress-code controversy.

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").

It's a scathing letter and captures the frustrations of a restaurant owner who seems to be overwhelmed by a turbulent economy, corporate bureaucracy and thwarted ambition.

The e-mail, unedited and in its original form, follows:

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...

Lee's Summit:

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 center

sign, 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

MOVE.

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.

God Bless,

Vera S. Willis,

"President"

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