Savory's Closure Raises Issues of Local Small Business Survival
• Center Owner and Chef Share Disappointment at Shutdown But See Different Factors at Root of Problems
BY ANNE SOBLE
When it became known that Savory restaurant in Point Dume Village had ceased operations last week, finger-pointing began by people who did not have access to specifics. As can happen too often in cases like this, the public prefers simplicity over complexity, and wants there to be a villain and a victim, even if no one sees themselves as one or the other.
While there are many details that attorneys for both parties have asked them not to discuss, what is known is that the closure took effect with a sign posted on Savory's entrance last Tuesday that said, "Closed for Voting."
The staff had reportedly been told not to come to work and the Point Dume Village management staff said they learned that inventory and equipment were being removed from the premises so they called a locksmith on Wednesday to change the locks.
There is no apparent rancor, however, between the two lead figures, Point Dume Village owner Zan Marquis, and the restaurant's chef-owner Paul Shoemaker, both of whom express major disappointment that things did not work out and each expresses concern that there may be forces that make it difficult for small independent businesses to be successful in Malibu.
Both men have invested themselves in the restaurant and each views it as a personal loss.
Each of them, however, sees different ownership issues that will likely have to be resolved in court. Shoemaker removed numerous items that he believes belong to him and his primary investor/supporter who he will not name, while Marquis views these items as the possessions of management and a partner and called the sheriff's department to make the removal a matter of public record.
Shoemaker counter asserts that there are things that belong to him and his employees to which access is being denied.
Marquis purchased the center and is credited with improving its look and bringing a new vitality and sense of community to the area. He enthusiastically discusses his vision of a center that reflects an environmentally aware and organic sensibility that he sees as becoming Malibu's lifestyle vision, while making the center economically viable and a good business investment.
The center owner said, "No one is more disappointed than I am that Savory failed. No one invested as much. Instead of remodeling our home, we built out Savory and then some."
Marquis said he "only stopped investing when we found out that the chef had signed a lease to open a restaurant in downtown Los Angeles."
Shoemaker echoed the disappointment, but he described factors during the last two months leading to closure as "the perfect storm." He said this included everything from power failures to the state and national elections, which he indicated is traditionally a down time for restaurants.
He cited the overall economy and even "boycotting" of the center as other issues, and added, "I never expected things to go this way." He emphasized that he supports what the group Preserve Malibu is doing, but said some patrons will avoid protests.
Shoemaker said he invested himself, often took no salary, and used what money the restaurant made to upgrade plumbing, electrical and the space.
He stressed that his local patrons are wonderful, but there are not enough of them in the winter, and added that when "the Broad Beach and other summer residents leave, business dropped."
Marquis said he wrapped most of the $15,000 monthly rent for the space into his investment package, which Shoemaker acknowledged, but the men differ over what the total means and how much money is owed to whom, and this is what will likely have to be adjudicated.
Both men indicated that they thought they had good working relationships with each other.
Marquis said, "Our relationship became strained when I found out in June that he was opening another eatery" in a new downtown center.
In the works apparently since the spring (a minor press announcement for the restaurant appeared on a food blog in March), Marquis said he didn't learn about the place to be named after one of Shoemaker's specialty hamburgers until June and then told Shoemaker there would be no further investment on his part, which meant the rent became due at the first of every month.
Shoemaker counters that he didn't have to tell Marquis about what he said is "an 800-square-foot burger joint." He said he embarked on the venture because he needed additional income because "Malibu is a tough place to do business."
Marquis said he has been sympathetic to what Shoemaker ws going through, but he noted "Shoemaker had made several statements to the property manager and me in September that he was thinking of moving out of Malibu for personal reasons."
Marquis said when the two "met again in late October, he informed me that Savory's sales were declining and he was worried about its survival. He asked me to invest more money in Savory and provide more free rent."
Marquis said, "[Shoemaker] also said he wanted to reposition Savory as a burger bar. I thought about it and declined his request. He then sent me a long letter saying, among other things, that Savory was not going to be paying rent starting in November.
On the afternoon of Nov. 6, center management issued a standard three-day notice to 'pay rent or quit.'"
Shoemaker said that in retrospect, Savory's location is perfect for "a beautiful neighborhood nook" but that kind of place can't afford $15,000 a month, especially with the small population base in Malibu."
He said there should be a way to structure Malibu leases "to do percentage rent in the winter" but he acknowledged that many landlord costs are also constant year-round, except, in leases that are triple-net, where much of these costs can be passed onto tenants in some form, depending on their specific lease arrangements.
But Marquis said that with most of the rent factored into his share of investment, he "doesn't know what else [he] could have done [for Savory]."
Marquis said, "I really wanted Savory to succeed. I want everything in Point Dume Village to be [successful] and play an important part in [community life] for the residents of western Malibu and all of Malibu."