Landlord sues Aspen Ruth’s Chris franchisee for $4 million | AspenTimes.com

Landlord sues Aspen Ruth’s Chris franchisee for $4 million

Rick CarrollThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – The feud between Ruth’s Chris and its Aspen landlord has landed in court again. Landlord Galena Corner LLC has filed suit in Pitkin County District Court demanding more than $4 million in future rent from Colorado Steakhouse LLC, which owned and operated the Ruth’s Chris franchisee. Galena Corner is the master-lease holder for the old Guido’s Inn space, located at the corner of Galena Street and Cooper Avenue, which Ruth’s Chris vacated in October. Also named as defendants are Thomas Becnel, Billy Parker of Florida, and James Lee of Alabama. The trio were members of Colorado Steakhouse, which signed a 10-year lease in September 2006, and opened Ruth’s Chris in early 2007. The suit claims that Ruth’s Chris has stopped paying rent, at the tune of $35,412 per month, since it went out of business, even though it has nearly seven years remaining on its lease.The high-end restaurant apparently struggled financially here, and in a July bench trial in Pitkin County District Court, Becnel testified it lost more than $1 million in 2007 and an estimated $700,000 last year.Colorado Steakhouse wanted the court to rescind its lease because of an alleged breach of contract by Galena Corner LLC, which is controlled by the Aspen firm M&W Properties.At issue was whether Ruth’s Chris’ lease allowed it to use the north patio facing Cooper Avenue. At trial, attorneys for Ruth’s Chris argued that its lease entitled it to the patio, but its ground-level neighbor, Royal Street Fine Art, used the spot to store some of its inventory. Ruth’s Chris management discovered Royal Street was using the disputed space in April 2007, prompting Colorado Steakhouse to sue.A judgment in its favor would have freed it up from paying the remaining seven-plus years on its lease. The restaurant also sought $157,657 in damages for what it alleged it overpaid in rent. But Judge Denise Lynch ruled in the landlord’s favor.rcarroll@aspentimes