Less than a week after opening its doors, Matzah Balls, a Doylestown Jewish deli, has closed indefinitely.
On Aug. 25, six days after its opening weekend on Aug. 19, owner and chef Franco Federico found an eviction notice on Matzah Balls’ window at the 24 N. Main Street location. The doors were padlocked.
Business manager Kevin Aniess said the restaurant closed due to a landlord and tenant dispute.
“This afternoon around 3 PM without any advance legal notice whatsoever a padlock was placed on the front gate and eviction type of notices were placed on the door by the landlord,” an open letter on the Matzah Balls website read.
“It was the desire of the landlord that we would not succeed under any circumstances,” it concludes. “The end of this story has not yet been written.”
Federico said landlord Uri Abrams requested $21,000 because of a fine-print clause in the lease saying that any default would result in Federico immediately owing 5% of the remaining time on the lease, over $10,000, plus $3,750 in legal fees.
“I guess he made the ultimate mistake, which was to sign the lease, to not hire a lawyer,” Aniess said.
Federico has since hired a lawyer. According to Federico, he was not behind on rent payments and that he was unable to pay common area maintenance charges (such as payments for parking lot lighting and garbage maintenance) due to injury and illness.
On the restaurant’s opening day, Federico dropped an 800-pound deli case on his foot, and the restaurant closed for dinner service that night. Federico fell ill a few days later and was unable to leave the house to get a certified check, he said.
The CAM charge was due in August for September’s maintenance. The original check for the payment bounced because “the funds did not make it into the account in time because Franco, when he was sick, asked someone else to do it,” Aniess said. The person Franco asked was unable to help secure the funds and a new check.
In the two years Federico had previously rented the restaurant space as La Dolce Vita Da Franco from Abrams, he had not missed any rent payments, Federico said.
Aniess believes that some of the landlord’s comments made about the restaurant closure were antisemitic, though Abrams, like Aniess and Federico, is also Jewish.
“After the grand opening after the ribbon cutting, when everybody was happy getting their free bagels and cream cheese, the landlord came up to Franco and said, ‘You’re going to regret the day that you open up a Jewish deli in Doylestown,’” Aniess said.
Abrams also allegedly told Federico that Aniess “was a dog that should be put on a leash.” Aniess believes that language was coded antisemitism.
Abrams declined a request to comment.
On Aug. 28, Federico, his girlfriend and Aniess met to discuss terms to reopen the restaurant. Federico would make his late CAM payment and agree to be sure to pay his rent in full and before their due dates. In exchange, Abrams would remove the padlock and eviction notice and reopen the restaurant and would allow for friendly dogs on the premises, which was originally prohibited in the lease.
The agreement fell through, however, because, according to Aniess, when Federico called Abrams to discuss the agreement, Abrams did not want Aniess and his son-in-law, who helped develop Matzah Balls’ menu, to be on the restaurant’s premises. Federico did not agree to that element of the agreement.
Though Federico believes he had not had any previous financial disputes with Abrams, he said that Abrams was stringent about when he received payments. According to Federico, Abrams would eat the restaurant’s food in the kitchen after business hours most nights at La Dolce Vita Da Franco.
“The other thing he always said to me was that he was the king and nobody should mess with him,” Federico said of Abrams. “He was ‘the lord of the land’; he’s ‘the landlord.’”
A hearing at the Bucks County Courthouse was set for Sept. 7 to discuss reversing the shuttering of the business.
“Franco is extremely upset; he’s basically destroyed,” Aniess said. “The whole thing that his reputation was built on for 40 years in the restaurant business was basically shattered in one hour.”
Though Matzah Balls remains closed, Federico is planning Rosh Hashanah dinners and take-out on Sept. 25 and 26 at his restaurant Fountainside in Horsham.