Legal fight stews between Aspen eatery, landlord
It will be up to a judge to decide whether the soup’s on or off for a downtown restaurant.
For now, nothing’s cooking at the Little Soup Shop, which opened in a sublevel space at the corner of Mill Street and Hyman Avenue on Dec. 20.
The city’s Health Department shut it down on June 12 because construction activity in the unit above the restaurant created conditions that “presented an eminent (sic) risk to public health. Specifically those conditions were physical hazards (wood chips, sawdust, construction debris) falling from the ceiling onto food products and food contact surfaces,” the Health Department said.
The department’s document is now an exhibit to the Little Soup Shop’s countercomplaint to an eviction suit filed against it on July 3 in Pitkin County District Court.
Landlord 400 Hyman LLC, controlled by Kenneth Sack, alleges that Little Soup Shop owner Dez Bartelt hasn’t made her minimum monthly rent payments of $3,000 for April, May and June. The landlord also contends that Bartelt’s refusal to leave the premises resulted in construction delays in what’s known as the Tom Thumb Building.
Bartelt said she wants to reopen the eatery but won’t know her fate until Pitkin County District Judge Gail Nichols, who will review the case in a hearing set for July 29, issues an order.
“I’m in a very big holding pattern and losing money every day,” Bartelt said Wednesday. “And I’m suffering because of it. I do want to get the space back.”
Both Sack and his Glenwood Springs lawyer, Timothy Lucas F. Van Arsdale, declined comment about the case Wednesday.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, Aspen attorney Matthew Ferguson, on Bartelt’s behalf, filed a 22-page counterclaim against 400 Hyman LLC and Sack.
The counterclaim seeks more than $50,000 for lost business and alleges that Sack told Bartelt in October, before she opened the restaurant, that the upcoming construction would not affect her business. But in March, Bartelt learned that she would have to shut down the restaurant for about six weeks. As a result, Bartelt told Sack that she would not pay rent for the months that her business was interrupted by the construction, the countersuit says.
“Ms. Bartelt only agreed to close the Soup Shop only in April and May so that the construction work affecting the Soup Shop could be completed and the restaurant could resume operations without interruption from or disturbance by the construction,” the counterclaim says.
Bartelt closed the eatery on April 5 and reopened it June 10, but the continuing construction’s noise and debris hampered her operation. Things became so tense that on June 11, Bartelt’s husband and a construction supervisor nearly got into a tussle, resulting in Bartelt having an epileptic seizure, the counterclaim says.
Two days later, on June 12, the Health Department shuttered the Little Soup Shop. Bartelt said she didn’t fight the closure because it was warranted.
But the timing, she said, came two days before the Food & Wine Classic, and she had to cancel a television interview related to the festival. The suit accuses Sack of wanting to use the restaurant for a party related to Food & Wine, forcing Bartelt to change the locks to “prevent Mr. Sack from illegally entering the shop and using the ovens when the shop had been shut down due to public safety concerns,” the counterclaim alleges.
While Van Arsdale declined comment, he noted that they disagree with the counterclaim’s allegations and will respond formally to them in court.
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Development in Basalt barely skipped a beat in 2020 despite the coronavirus. It’s expected to be busier next year.