Almanac

News - February 12, 2014

Cafe Zoe building up for sale

by Sandy Brundage

The Willows neighborhood may need to fight for Cafe Zoe, a popular community hangout, as the landlord of Menalto Corners has put the building up for sale.

The 4,400-square-foot retail center at 1923-1929 Menalto Ave. is listed at $1.45 million, according to LoopNet. Its four tenants include Cafe Zoe, owned by Kathleen Daly, who was recently honored by the city as a "superhero" for her volunteer work as well as business acumen.

Unfortunately, the sale of Menalto Corners could leave the cafe's future on shaky ground. Ms. Daly told the Almanac that she, like two other tenants — Twig and Petals and Captivating Dance by Nona — currently has no lease. The fourth tenant, Habibi's Salon, currently holds a lease.

The building's owner, Anatole Zelkin, said he considered the sale a private matter. "Who cares?" he replied when asked why he decided to list the property and what would happen to the tenants. "Why do you want to know my business? They probably will need to move. I don't care about Cafe Zoe."

He declined to comment further.

Ms. Daly said she learned about the potential sale in early January.

"I was trying to negotiate a new lease with my landlord as I felt the rent increase was too high to absorb so quickly," Ms. Daly said. "He warned me I had two weeks. I responded but too late — he had already selected a broker and the building would be more valuable without leases."

Mr. Zelkin raised the monthly rent by $200 a month, plus 25 percent of taxes, water and sewer, she said. Her counter-offer — to pay the $200 plus water and sewer, and in two years, add a percentage of any sales increase — went without a response.

"The hard part of all this is that we have had a great relationship for five-and-a-half years. I know and he has said that we have all worked hard to make Menalto Corners a place the Willows would be proud of," Ms. Daly said. "He allowed all of us to pay 'under market rents' but that has more to do with the fact that it was not a thriving destination to begin with. It has and continues to take a lot of effort."

So Ms. Daly is now seeking "small business friendly" investors who understand the challenges of operating at that location to help purchase the site. She'd welcome a call from anyone intrigued by the opportunity; a few people, including a Willows neighbor, have already shown some interest.

There's some fear that as word spreads, the likelihood of a sale rises, according to Ms. Daly, but she said she remains optimistic despite knowing that her landlord is already receiving offers.

"Without sounding stupid I have to admit I have never negotiated or, for that matter, considered owning commercial property, so I am learning the hard way," she said.

Ms. Daly told the Almanac that she'd also discovered she may qualify for a small business loan, and was pursuing that option with a bank.

The owner of Twig and Petals, a floral boutique located at Menalto Corners for about three years, said everybody was talking about the sale, but until a new landlord comes onboard, it's hard to predict the impact.

"Will they want to raise the rent, will they kick us out? We just don't know what they will want to do. We're hoping we get a nice buyer who cares about our little businesses and wants to see us do well," Bella Hicks said. "We're staying positive."

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