Chrissie Hynde rolled into town on a Harley-Davidson dressed like a waitress and bearing a platter of hors d’oeuvres to open her VegiTerranean restaurant in 2007.
Her departure was much less auspicious — mired with debts, legal troubles and a dissolved business partnership that arose from the nationally acclaimed vegan eatery.
The Akron native and lead singer of the band the Pretenders, Hynde announced the closing of her restaurant Sunday, posting the following message on the restaurant’s website and Facebook page:
“It is with great regret that The VegiTerranean in downtown Akron has closed it doors for the last time. This has been a labor of love for us for the last four years. We tried everything we could to keep the restaurant going but unfortunately due to the current economic climate this has not been possible. I’d like to thank everybody who helped me fulfill my dream. I discovered that Vegan cuisine in Ohio has become more appreciated than I imagined.
“We were voted among the top 5 Vegan restaurants in America by Business Week. Of course my Chef Scot Jones is responsible for that, with the help of Tal Ronen, the man who taught him how to translate his delicious recipes into non meat versions. Last but not least I’d like to thank our management, amazing staff and everyone of you who dined with us at The VegiTerranean. Your Friend, Chrissie Hynde.”
On Monday, Testa Builders, which owns the Northside Lofts at 21 Furnace St., where VegiTerranean was located, filed suit against the restaurant, seeking a judgment of more than $420,000 for “value received and in consideration of certain construction work and services provided by Testa.”
Joel Testa, chief operating officer for Testa Companies, said the lien was for money his company had put into the build-out of the restaurant, which still was not paid back, and was filed to protect the builders in case anyone else had tried to attack the restaurant’s assets.
“I’m heartbroken. I thought it was a fantastic restaurant, the food was incredible. I love the concept and my heart goes out to not only Chrissie — it’s got to be very hard to close down her dream — but more importantly for the staff and people who had to be sent home last night. You never like to see anybody lose their job,” Testa said.
Attempts to reach Hynde for comment were not successful. Attorney Patrick J. Wack of Fairlawn, who is listed as statutory agent for the restaurant, also did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Jones, who has been the driving force behind the vegan cuisine at the restaurant since it opened, called the closing devastating.
“It is an absolute tragedy,” he said, fighting back tears. “This is like a funeral to us.”
Jones suggested that the end of the business partnership with Dan Duplain, who started out as co-owner of VegiTerranean with Hynde, resulted in problems that were insurmountable.
Summit County Common Pleas Court records show more than 20 judgment liens against the restaurant dating back to 2009 by the Ohio Department of Taxation and the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation for unpaid taxes and insurance premiums.
Jones said the IRS also has been at the business asking questions.
Testa said he had been working with the state to try and save the restaurant by taking it over, but that became too expensive of an effort, with more than $140,000 in back taxes owed. “When we saw the breadth of them [the liens], we knew it was more than we could afford to put back into the restaurant,” Testa said. “We were trying to save it.”
In April 2010, Duplain closed his Canton restaurant, Fedeli, and recently he and Hynde parted ways in VegiTerranean, as well. Jones previously was executive chef at Fedeli and came with Duplain to VegiTerranean.
Within months of opening in Akron, Duplain announced that the restaurant was eyeing locations in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Las Vegas. None of those materialized.
Duplain could not be reached for comment.
Jones said lack of business was not the root cause of the closing.
“Our numbers were great,” he said.
He said Hynde “is just devastated” by the closing.
“Her hometown is Akron, Ohio,” he said. “and she really put her money where her mouth was.”
Jones said he had hoped to put out the new fall menu and serve more dinners “to at least go out with a bang,” but that was not meant to be.
He said he plans to relocate to Los Angeles, to work with Hynde and nationally known vegan chef Ronen on a new restaurant. “It won’t be called VegiTerranean. It will be a concept like this, but bigger and better,” Jones said.
He said VegiTerranean had employed 12 full-time and 18 part-time workers. “They are all a great and wonderful culinary and service staff that need to have a fine home,” he said.
Jones said he would be sticking around through the week to honor a wedding booking. He could not say whether outstanding gift certificates would be reimbursed.
“I think that will have to be for the attorneys to figure out,” he said.
Testa said he is working feverishly to find a new tenant for the space, and already has had inquiries from five established Akron-area restaurant operators for the space. “I’m very confident something good will happen here,” he said.
He said the closing won’t affect his plans to put a Courtyard by Marriott hotel at the Northside Lofts location. He said all of the plans have been approved for the hotel, and he is just working out the final details of the financing. He still expects to break ground by the first of the year.
Testa said he hopes that whoever takes over the space will leave at least part of the menu vegetarian or vegan to honor Hynde’s vision and also to serve the clientele.
Lisa Abraham can be reached at 330-996-3737 or at email@example.com.