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Balagio owners sell eatery in Merrillville, Ind., to Calumet City, Ill., restaurateurs

MERRILLVILLE, Ind. ( May 14 ) Merrillville restaurant building is poised to transform itself from Old World Italy to Southeast Asia.

After about three years of serving signature Italian dishes -- rigatoni con pollo, linguine frattina and shrimp scampi, to name a few -- Balagio Ristorante closed Sunday, making way for a "East- meets-West" cuisine beginning in mid June.

The restaurant, 7876 Broadway, had been up for sale for a year and it was only until Wednesday, Balagio owner Joe Hoffman said, that the business was sold to Tammy Pham and her husband, Siam Chung. The couple owns two Thai cuisine eateries -- both named Siam Marina -- in Calumet City, Ill.

Hoffman declined to delve into much detail but said that he and his co-owners "just wanted to get out of it. We enjoyed the business, but it took so much of our time," he said Thursday.

But don't expect the new restaurant, which will be named Asparagus, to be another Thai restaurant.

Asparagus' offerings will be a fusion of French and Vietnamese cuisine.

"We wanted to bring something new for our customers," said Pham, who moved to the U.S. from Vietnam in the 1980s.

The new interior likely will be designed to evoke the era of Vietnam's French colonial spirit of the 1920s, Pham said.

Some of her loyal patrons at the Calumet City eateries, which has been in business for about 14 years, had encouraged her to move to Merrillville.

Pham said the fusion of French and Vietnamese cuisine is becoming a trend and gaining more attention, especially in the metropolitan cities like with Chicago's Le Colonial.

Asparagus marks Pham and Chung's first business venture in Indiana.


Moe's closing after one year; Apparent dispute ends run of Southaven, Tenn., restaurant

SOUTHAVEN, Tenn. ( May 14 ) Moe's Southwest Grill in Southaven has closed.

The restaurant that offered Southwest-style dishes with a twist closed April 28, after only a year in business.

Atlanta transplants Ray and Betsy Orgera opened the restaurant in South Creek Collection West, off of Goodman Road and Airways last March.

It was the second Moe's the couple opened in the Memphis area since 2004.

Reached at their Moe's restaurant in Cordova, 465 N. Germantown Pkwy., Suite 101, Betsy Orgera said she could not discuss the closure of the Southaven restaurant because it was a legal matter.

Signs on the window of the restaurant said a little more.

"Moe's will be closed until further notice due to a contract disagreement between us and the franchisor," the note said.

Moe's, a unit of Atlanta-based Raving Foods, announced last month that it was being sold to FOCUS Brands, also an Atlanta-based franchisor.

FOCUS Brands operates more than 1,750 ice cream stores, bakeries and sandwich stores and cafes under brand names Carvel, Cinnabon and Schlotzsky's.

It also is the franchisor of Seattle's Best Coffee on military bases and in certain international markets. Including Moe's, Focus Brands said it will have more than $1 billion in annual systemwide sales.

Moe's, founded in 2000, billed itself a "quirky, irreverent and fun" fast-casual restaurant where food was served fresh with no animal fat and no lard.

Customers were greeted with a "Welcome to Moe's" salutation as soon as they walked into the restaurant.

There are 344 Moe's locations in 38 states. It has nearly $300 million in annual systemwide sales.

A spokesman for Moe's did not return calls made to their Atlanta office Thursday.

The Orgeras said their goodbye to customers in a farewell note plastered on their restaurant windows.


Navy Bistro's owner wants to buy Docks: Deal would net Toledo, Ohio, $500,000

TOLEDO, Ohio ( May 14 ) Tom Cousino, owner of the Navy Bistro restaurant at The Docks, is attempting to buy the East Toledo dining complex from the city in a deal he says would net the city at least $500,000 and take a $2.1 million debt off its books.

Mr. Cousino said his lease gives him a right of first refusal to buy the property, which sits along the Maumee River facing the downtown.

So far, the city isn't snapping up Mr. Cousino's offer.

Andy Ferrara, the city's real estate manager, confirmed that The Docks is for sale and that the city is in negotiations with Mr. Cousino. Mr. Ferrara said Real Seafood Co. owner Michael Gibbons also has signaled an interest in the property. Mr. Gibbons could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Ferrara said the city would hire an attorney to handle the negotiations. He acknowledged that Mr. Cousino "may have" an option to purchase but said it's still being studied. He said the city hasn't determined an asking price for the property yet.

"We're looking at offers. We're going to do some advertising," he said.

Mr. Cousino said he has made an offer under which he and possibly other private buyers would take over the obligation of the $2.1 million debt owed on bonds issued by the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, and that the city would net $500,000 to $600,000.

Exact terms of Mr. Cousino's offer were unavailable. But Mr. Cousino said the price being offered is based on a professional appraisal that recognizes that he and the other restaurant owners invested between $9 million and $11 million to convert the former city warehouse and garage into the dining destination it is now.

He said that investment ultimately spurred interest in the nearby Marina District site now being marketed as a site for $320 million worth of residential and commercial development.

Mr. Cousino made his first offer in February. It was rejected, and Mr. Cousino submitted a new offer yesterday, Mr. Ferrara and Mr. Cousino said.

Mr. Cousino said his offer could end up including other restaurant owners at The Docks, but the bottom line is that the operators would take over the debt obligation.

"The ownership could well end up being all or some portion of the owners of the restaurants," Mr. Cousino said.

"We're the ones that put $9 [million] to $11 million into it. I would think the city of Toledo would want to do what is right to keep independent and individual entrepreneurs coming to the table in this city," he said.

The complex includes Mr. Cousino's locations -- Navy Bistro, Tango's, Tango's Cantina, The Courtyard at the Navy, and Eileen's Wine Bar; Real Seafood and Zia's owned by Mr. Gibbons' business, Main Street Ventures, and Oasis on the River, operated by Dean Skillman.

Mr. Cousino recalled that he accepted Mayor Finkbeiner's challenge to develop The Docks into a restaurant complex in 1997 when many other people turned it down.

"It wasn't until we proved it was a viable property that everyone else wanted to get involved," Mr. Cousino said.

City taxpayers spent more than $500,000 on the International Park building to prepare it for the Navy Bistro that opened in 1997.

James Hartung, president of the port authority, which issued the bonds, said $2.12 million remains on the debt, which is being paid off at the rate of $22,219.33 a month. He said the payments are current.

Mr. Hartung said the bond holders can refuse to agree to an ownership transfer if they don't believe the new backers are financially as strong as the current backers.

The negotiations occur as the city and River East Economic Revitalization Corp. have been in Lucas County Common Pleas Court over who has the right to manage The Docks.

River East, a nonprofit community development agency, has managed the complex on behalf of the city since 1997, collecting rents and making the bond payments. But in February, the city served notice that it intended to take over management, claiming River East was in default on payments owed the city.

The city claimed in a March 9 letter that River East was in default on $62,893 that was supposed to have been paid to the city since May, 2001.

In a reply, River East attorney Richard Scheich requested more information about the alleged default.

The city's agreement was that River East would take a 15 percent management fee on the rents it collects, make the monthly bond payment, and then forward the balance to the city, according to a letter to Mr. Scheich from Adam Loukx, the city's general counsel.

Mr. Loukx said the city was the manager of The Docks after Judge James Jensen denied a temporary restraining order sought by River East April 18.


Catering service contract for High Point, N.C., market sparks spat

HIGH POINT, N.C. ( May 14 ) The catering provided for High Point Market guests during entertainment at the spring trade show has served up a controversy in some quarters of the city.

A Greensboro-based company, Pepper Moon Catering Inc., provided food during the Stars Under the Stars free concerts for marketgoers at the last trade show. During the first two series of concerts in the spring and fall of last year, the catering involved several businesses out of High Point.

Gordy's was one of the High Point restaurants that catered the free concerts during the spring and fall markets last year. Restaurant co-owner Kyle Bellamy said he wasn't invited to bid for the spring market catering and wasn't given an explanation by the High Point Market Authority for the change. The catering would have increased Gordy's market business by 10 percent to 15 percent, he said.

"I wish that business would have stayed with High Pointbusinesses," he said. "Had I not gotten it, that would have been fine. I don't expect to get it every year. But it just didn't make sense to me that the market authority, which is supported by High Point tax dollars, would give that business to a Greensboro company. If we would have kept it in High Point, that revenue would have run through High Point."

Bellamy expressed his concern to city leaders, as have several other High Point restaurant and catering businessowners, according to research done by The High Point Enterprise. Other business owners echoed Bellamy's concerns privately to the Enterprise.

High Point City Councilman Latimer Alexander said city council members have asked City Manager Strib Boynton, who serves on the market authority board of directors, to "share concerns" about offering opportunities for local contracts.

"We encourage people to look locally first," Alexander said.

Authority board member Joanna Easter, who helps organize catering for entertainment events, said market organizers weren't slighting local businesses.

"Each time we book the entertainment, we change the type of food service, mostly to keep our entire presentation fresh and different from show to show. It will change again for October and we are certainly interested in any company -- and their new ideas -- contacting us," said Easter, who serves as chief operating officer for Showplace.

Bellamy said local businesses remain the backbone for the city, both during and between markets.

"We see all the push for it to be the High Point Market," Bellamy said. "I'm here 365 days a year paying property taxes, power bills, water bills, to the city of High Point. If our city tax dollars are funding the market authority, it would make sense that High Point businesses get a chance to bid on such functions."

Restaurant owners in Missouri want to know whether the new hourly rate is $2.13 or $3.25

KANSAS CITY, Mo. ( May 14 ) Missouri restaurateurs are waiting for a court decision to tell them how much to pay their tipped employees.

Specifically, should the employers pay $2.13 an hour -- or $3.25 an hour -- in base wages to tipped workers?

The confusion dates to last November, when Missouri voters approved an increase in the state's minimum wage, effective Jan. 1.

The new law pushed the state's minimum wage from the federal level of $5.15 up to $6.50 an hour.

But it did not provide clear enough guidance, at least in some opinions, about how to handle workers who get most of their income from tips.

Tipped workers have long been treated as a subset of the work force. The Fair Labor Standards Act requires that tipped employees be paid a base wage of $2.13 an hour, so long as their tips bring their total hourly pay rate up to the federal minimum wage of $5.15.

After Missourians voted for a higher minimum wage, the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations initially advised restaurant operators that $2.13 continued to be the operative base for tipped employees.

Not so, argued The Brennan Center for Justice, law professors at St. Louis University and Washington University, and other groups advocating for a higher minimum wage, such as the St. Louis Area Jobs With Justice organization.

"We believe that tipped employees are entitled to a minimum base wage of $3.25 an hour, that it's plainly worded in the new statute, and that 50 percent of the prevailing minimum wage is what the department has interpreted for years," said Christopher N. Grant, an attorney representing Jobs With Justice.

On March 14, Gov. Matt Blunt sided with the minimum wage advocates and ordered the department to advise employers that $3.25 an hour was their base requirement.

Currently, the department is under court order by a Cole County Circuit Court judge not to take a position or offer advice about what employers should have been paying their tipped employees between Jan. 1 and March 14.

The injunction did not specifically stop the department from advising employers what they should be paying since March 14.

But department spokeswoman Tammy Cavender said that, because of the injunction, the department was not giving out advice about post-March 14 wages either.

Bill Robbins, an attorney at Shughart Thomson & Kilroy who represents some restaurant owners, said he is advising his clients to follow the governor's order "to be on the safe side."

"There's a reasonable argument that employers needn't pay more than $2.13 an hour to tipped employees, but a persuasive argument was advanced that employers aren't exempt from the first 50 percent of the minimum," Robbins said.

Partly to find out whether $2.13 or $3.25 an hour is the proper amount, two restaurant operators sued the state labor department.

"We are asking the court to declare that the proper interpretation of the tipped section of the minimum wage law is the interpretation the department first issued in December," said John B. Renick, attorney for the plaintiffs.

Renick represents businesses that operate Granny Schaffer's Family Restaurant in Joplin and Johnny's Beanery in Columbia.

In addition to asking Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce to rule on the base pay, the petition asks her to free employers from getting hit with any back-pay awards or damages.

Back pay could be ordered if $3.25 is ruled to be the correct interpretation and employers had been paying their tipped employees $2.13.

"We're requesting that those operators who relied on the $2.13 advice they received from the department will not be required to make retroactive payments back to Jan. 1," Renick said.

Both sides of the lawsuit filed briefs earlier this month, a second round is due Thursday, and a hearing is set for Friday. The lawyers say they expect the judge to rule quickly, but that is likely to be in June at the earliest, they predict.

Meanwhile, members of the Missouri Restaurant Association, as well as many tipped workers, are awaiting the decision.

For some workers, the issue is a matter of social justice.

"Tipped workers finally got their first minimum wage raise in 15 years, and now these restaurants are asking for permission to reach into the workers' pockets and take it back," Lara Granich, director of the St. Louis Area Jobs With Justice group, said in a press release.

The amount under contention is just $1.12 an hour, the difference between an employer-paid base of $2.13 and $3.25 an hour. But both sides say that $1.12 adds up -- for small-restaurant operators who would have to pay it and for workers who would have that amount covered by their tips rather than provided in a base wage.

In an interview with The Joplin Globe, Mike Wiggins, owner of Granny Schaffer's restaurant, said the lawsuit "is not an effort to shortchange anyone. I just want to know what (the minimum wage law) means for restaurateurs."

Wiggins said the lawsuit is simply an effort to clear up confusion.

Lawrenceville, Pa., The Church Brew Works' summer menu features an eastern flair

LAWRENCEVILLE, Kan. ( May 14 ) Executive chef Jason Marrone goes home to his new bride every worknight smelling like a brewery. But that's to be expected.

The scent of hops and malt on his toque usually complement the aromas he's created in the kitchen that day -- it could be anything from Kobe beef strip steaks to buffalo and wild mushroom meatloaf, seared sesame tuna to chargrilled salmon, or pierogies stuffed with potatoes and cheese to an array of wood-fired brick oven pizzas.

Marrone, a Homestead native who heads the cooking staff at The Church Brew Works, in Lawrenceville, has been working there since the venue opened in 1996. It's the only restaurant where he's worked, he says, entering as an extern from the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute and working his way up through the ranks to the top spot. Before that, he helped an uncle who owned a catering business. Marrone's sous chef is Gene Evans.

The restaurant works directly with Morgan Ranch, in Burwell, Neb., to source its Kobe beef, Marrone says. "They raise and slaughter the cattle, doing everything from beginning to end," the chef adds. "We get pretty much whatever we want from the ranch."

Kobe beef -- from cattle that is specially fed and massaged -- is expensive, but Marrone lets the curious have an economical taste of it by offering a lunch entree called Shinkasa Cheese Steak sandwich, featuring Kobe beef served with melted provolone, grilled onions and red peppers, for less than $12.

Buffalo also is a popular menu item, he says. In addition to the meatloaf, patrons can order burgers and strip steak. "We sell (the steak) and filet mignon at about the same rate." The restaurant also is noted for its traditional and fancy pierogies -- handmade -- and novelty items such as rattlesnake and cactus.

The brewery has been working at full steam lately to bulk up its inventory. "That's a good problem," says Marrone, praising the work of new brewmaster Brant Dubovick, who makes a North German-style Pilsner, British Special Bitter and American Brown Ale, as well as seasonal beers. The Church Brew Works also offers handcrafted birch beer (nonalcoholic) and cherry soda -- both soon to be bottled for retail sales -- as well as ginger ale.

"(Bavarian) Dunkel is my favorite," says Marrone. "It's the best beer we have." The chef occasionally uses the brews in his cooking -- "in some sauces and periodically in specials" -- but desserts are where the suds shine the most. "We take wort (a mash of beer ingredients before fermentation) and boil it down until it's thick. It's incorporated in our tiramisu, which we call Brewmisu, in our bread pudding, chocolate mousse cake and our ice creams. Our ice cream is made by Dave & Andy's, in Oakland. The only dessert that doesn't have it is the cheesecake." A low-fat frozen yogurt also is offered.

The Church Brew Works will be introducing a new menu on June 1, Marrone says, which will feature Vegetable-Mango Curry, Shrimp Won Tons with a trio of dipping sauces, Tuna Tartare, Kobe Bavette (also called flap steak) and Smoked Vegetable Paella. Regulars who have favorites will see only "subtle changes" to those dishes.

From May 30-June 3 and from June 7-9, the restaurant will celebrate Patio Fest 2007 Island Style, with tropical drinks and Caribbean-style food. A seven-course Brewer's Dinner is planned for May 20.


Prosser, Wash., institution's owners are planning to retire and sell restaurant

PROSSER, Wash. ( May 14 ) The big red barn that sits along Wine Country Road as you enter this small town of about 5,000 has been a landmark in the close-knit community for 61 years.

At The Barn restaurant in Prosser, waitresses call you by name, the signature dish has been on the menu as long as anyone can remember and you'll probably know the people sitting at the next table.

"It's sort of an institution," said Mayor Linda Lusk.

Duke and Linda Pappenheim have owned the establishment for 33 years and are planning to retire. The restaurant has been for sale for about a year and as soon as the couple find a buyer, they're planning on hanging up their aprons.

"We figured 33 years was enough," said Duke Pappenheim from a corner booth at the front of the bar.

His wife said the change will give the couple more time to travel and focus on their volunteer work.

Duke Pappenheim, 67, is active in the Shriners, serving on the organization's hospital board for 10 years. Over the years, the Pappenheims also have helped the Red Cross and been involved in Prosser's States Day event, worked on the community float and helped with the Junior Miss program.

When the Pappenheims first took over the restaurant from its original owner Hazel Donovan, the building functioned as a restaurant and bar. In 1985, the Pappenheims expanded the bar and in 1990 they added a banquet room, 16 RV parking spots and a 30-room hotel.

Duke Pappenheim said they've had to work to keep up with his growing town. He's watched the city evolve from a small farming community to the heart of the local wine industry.

When he built the motel, there was only one other in town. Today, there are three. But that doesn't mean business has slowed. Linda Pappenheim, 59, said the motel books up a year in advance for popular community events like the annual hot air balloon rally and the wine and food fair.

"It's a great area and with the new wine industry that's coming in -- we've watched it grow," he said.

Sitting in the wood-paneled lounge Friday, George Miller said he's been coming to the restaurant for about 30 years.

"I've always been treated fairly around here," he said.

Linda Pappenheim said Miller has become more than a customer -- he's family. She said his mother and sister both worked at The Barn and Miller, a builder in town, helped construct one of the expansions.

During Friday's lunch rush, nearly every other customer, including Miller, ordered up the restaurant's famous tenderburger, a staple that's been on the menu for nearly 60 years. Served with a salad and fries, it costs $8.50.

Duke Pappenheim said the original restaurant owner created the sandwich, a small sirloin steak on a bun. When the Pappenheims bought the place, Donovan asked the couple to keep it on the menu.

Jim Milne, executive director of the Prosser Chamber of Commerce, remembers a childhood that revolved around weekly dinners at The Barn.

"It was just a great treat," he said. "My friends were jealous."

Duke Pappenheim said Donovan believed in keeping things simple. So simple, Linda Pappenheim said, that when they took over they could find only seven plates in the restaurant.

She said Donovan used real plates to serve steaks -- everything else was presented on paper plates.

Duke Pappenheim said he found the key to making the restaurant a success was word-of-mouth advertising. He said he started by bringing different service clubs to The Barn.

Even now, groups like the Prosser Kiwanis Club, Prosser Rotary Club, Prosser Chamber of Commerce and the Lower Valley Christian Women's Club meet regularly at the restaurant.

Linda Pappenheim said groups with memberships that stretch from the Tri-Cities to Yakima often meet at The Barn, taking advantage of its central location.

The couple often spend their days at The Barn. If they're not keeping watch over the kitchen, they're manning the front counter at the motel.

Duke Pappenheim said they are usually up at 4 a.m. and at the business until 9 p.m.

"It's a 24/7 operation," he said.

Duke Pappenheim said it will be tough to finally retire.

"It will be hard to step away but that will be the new challenge," he said.


Leaving 'outdoor cafes' can result in arrest in Columbus, Ga.

COLUMBUS, Ga. ( May 14 ) Remember those imaginary walls white-faced mimes used to bump into and feel their way around with their white-gloved hands?

It's too bad some people don't run into those downtown.

Last fall dozens of people ventured beyond the invisible walls of the "outdoor cafe" a downtown bar or restaurant's permitted to put out by the sidewalk. Had they bumped into imaginary borders, they might not have gone on to be arrested for drinking in public during a series of weekend police sweeps.

Downtown businesses by law are allowed to serve alcoholic beverages at tables outside -- an area called an "outdoor cafe" and considered an extension of the adjacent bar or restaurant. But customers are not allowed to leave those tables with their drinks. Apparently some patrons got so used to drinking outdoors last year that they forgot about the invisible walls. They sat and drank at sidewalk tables, then took their drinks and walked away.

Once they ventured beyond the conceptual bounds of the "outdoor cafe," they got arrested under a city law that says it's illegal "for any person to drink alcoholic beverages on the streets and sidewalks or on the parks and playgrounds or on any other public property."

Now the boundaries of the outdoor cafe are more clearly delineated by the city's $14.5 million downtown street renovation: The red-brick paving installed during that project marks where a bar or restaurant may set its outdoor tables along the curb. Other tables may be set right up against the building's facade. The concrete sidewalk between the building and the brick paving must remain clear for pedestrians.

The outdoor cafe ends at the street, and its sides align with the walls of the building housing the bar or restaurant. That's the designated drinking area, and those rules apply all the time, every day, every night, every happy hour, every weekend.

Except during block parties.

Authorized by a special city permit, a block party can expand the outdoor drinking area -- but only for a limited time. When that time is up, anyone drinking alcohol outside must be back within the bounds of the outdoor cafe. Anyone who is not could get busted for drinking in public.

This could confuse some folks, over the next few weeks, because Uptown Columbus is hosting a series of outdoor concerts on Broadway, from Friday through June 9.

For these 6-11 p.m. events, Uptown will set up a block party along Broadway between 10th Street and 12th Street, closing 11th Street between Front and First Avenue. Within those bounds, people may drink out on the street -- but only during those events.

Only for an evening does the city so dissolve those invisible boundaries that envelop an outdoor cafe under the color of law. When the block party is over at 11 p.m., outside drinking again is restricted to the outdoor cafe.

So, do not get confused, nor drink so much that you forget which day it is, or what time it is, or where the invisible walls are supposed to be.

Though city regulations require that outdoor cafes be bordered by "readily removable railings or fencing or a combination of railings or fencing and landscaping in planter boxes," no one's using those now, and the roadsides downtown are less cluttered.

Those regulations are about to be changed. "The new cafe ordinance will eliminate all that," Uptown Columbus President Richard Bishop said last week. "The delineation of an outdoor cafe is you'll be able to put your tables on the brick pavers, and one row up against the wall. You don't have to put up a fence. You don't have to put up any planters."

The city's Planning Advisory Commission is to consider the new outdoor cafe rules next week at its Wednesday meeting, 9 a.m. in the council chambers at the Government Center. After that, these revisions to the city's Unified Development Ordinance go to Columbus Council.

Usually such regulations interest only the business owners who must abide by them, but sometimes it's important to keep up even if you're just another customer going downtown to have a drink.

Get caught drinking where the law says you can't, and you could wind up in jail.





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