Skip to comments.Positively Closed
Posted on 05/06/2004 7:33:50 AM PDT by The Other Harry
May 6, 2004
Legendary S.C. restaurant homeless again
By DAN WHITE
Sentinel staff writer
SANTA CRUZ Its official: Barring sudden intervention by Bob Dylan, Positively Front Street will be locked and bolted this morning.
Louis Meadows, owner of the relocated iconic restaurant at 516 Front St., owes about $60,000 to his landlord, Barry Swenson Builder.
And at 6:01 a.m. today, he fully expects to be locked out of his own eatery by order of the county sheriff.
He said hes tried several avenues to avoid a lockout. Local bands including Bear the Memory, Archer and Incursion, continue to hold benefits. As of Wednesday afternoon, theyve raised about $90.
And Meadows said a friend is attempting to contact Dylan, who gave Positively an on-stage plug during a spring 2000 gig at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium; Dylan, who reportedly dined at the restaurant before the concert, joked that "We ought to franchise that place."
All these years later, Meadows is hoping Dylan whose song "Positively Fourth Street" inspired the restaurants name will get serious about the franchise idea.
"We could roll this (restaurant) down across the coast," Meadows said Wednesday afternoon as he sat calmly at the Positively Front Street bar, slowly drinking a Guinness.
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Meadows said he has a friend who lives next door to Dylan, but has been unsuccessful in his efforts to contact the legendary singer-songwriter about the restaurant.
"They talk," Meadows said. "Dylan has no problem with that."
Meadow blames the restaurants recent troubles on what he considers "a bad location" with scant foot traffic. He also said he was "caught up in a bureaucracy" that resulted in him opening the relocated restaurant last July with no beer or liquor license.
He said he finally secured a liquor license several months later but that the lapse cost him thousands of dollars in profits and drove customers away during the critical early stage.
He said the landlord or city staff should have alerted him of the potential lag time.
Still, he insists this is not the end of the line for Positively Front Street, famous for its enormous "Thurber Burgers" and "Maggies Farm House salad." He says hell reopen yet again, perhaps in 45 days, in a smaller building he owns at 44 Front St., where he expects heavy foot traffic from the beach area.
Those familiar with the restaurants history will understand the significance of that address; its right next door to the original Positively Front Street building, a homey "old time" Santa Cruz establishment that featured a jukebox, a stage, and a miniature train chugging along the edge of the ceiling.
The original restaurant burned in December 2000. The case has gone cold, but firefighters continue to describe it as an arson. Immediately after the fire, Meadows was questioned as a suspect, and fire investigators later described him as "uncooperative." Meadows was never charged with a crime, and continues to maintain his innocence.
"The whole city thinks Im a ... felon," he said. "I didnt do it. I have in my heart a firm belief of who it was, but I cant say it on the record."
He said a variety of circumstances made it tough for him to pay rent for a large space.
Mike Perkins of Barry Swenson Builder insisted the landlord did all it could to accommodate Meadows. "Hes in arrears tens of thousands of dollars. ... Were very reasonable as landlords," said Perkins, adding that getting payment from Meadows was a "continuous struggle."
Blaming the location is wrong, added Perkins, who insisted the site would be in a great location for the right business and the right manager.
Perkins said Barry Swenson Builder received three checks "that ultimately bounced." Meadow admits to bouncing two checks to Swenson.
Meadows, 46, a divorced father of five, worked in the high-tech industry before buying the business in June 1998. He said he bought the place in part because of its place in Santa Cruz history.
After the December 2000 fire, Meadows insisted that only the roof was badly damaged and that the rest of the building could have been saved.
Fire investigator Ray Zachau disagreed Wednesday. He said the ravaged building was a hazard and that one of the walls was so badly damaged that it was in danger of falling on the apartments next door.
Troubles continued when the reincarnated Positively Front Street moved into a shuttered brewpub downtown.
Meadows said he was surprised, after relocating the business, to find hed have to wait several months to get the wine and beer license because the brewpub, at that point, had been closed for half a year.
In Santa Cruz, if an alcohol-serving establishment shuts down for at least six months prior to new ownership, the new owner must apply for a use permit.
"Theres a reason these laws exist, because people do abuse the laws," Meadows said. But as far as hes concerned, "we were caught up in a bureaucracy."
Meadows insists someone should have alerted him, and that "people would just walk out" when they found out beer was not available.
Alex Khoury, the citys principal planner, said Meadows, as an experienced restaurateur, "certainly knew the process. The city process should not have been a mystery to him. Any time you have a use permit that is not acted upon for more than six months, it automatically expires."
But Meadows said the lack of an immediate beer/wine license hurt him badly. We never broke $2,000 (on any given night.)"
Sometimes, he said, the take was a measly $200, making it impossible to pay the $11,000 in monthly rent.
Meadows said he finally got the license several months after opening.
Rebecca Campbell, owner of Rebeccas Mighty Muffins, next door to the downtown Positively Front Street, expressed sympathy.
Stopping by the restaurant, she spoke briefly with Meadows.
"You had a lot beating you down since day one," Campbell said. "Youve had a lot working against you." She agreed with Meadows that this section of Front Street is a "very bad location ..." with very little foot traffic. "Our business has been way down for the past eight years."
Meadows said hes excited about moving the restaurant yet again, though it will be smaller. While the downtown version could seat about 70, the upcoming one will seat about 20.
But he said he hopes to get a thriving and expanded business that will one day be big enough to host live music.
And he said hed still be interested in any business offers from Dylan, if they ever come his way.
"Id be happy to have him as a shareholder," Meadows said. "Hes always been a hero of mine."
Contact Dan White at email@example.com.
Meadows is an opportunist and an idiot. The level of idiocy in Santa Cruz is stunning.
I think it's lovely. I guess you live there?
Hard to believe with a lineup like that.
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