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Update 8/7: Hot N Juicy Crawfish will be able to continue operating in Falls Church, per one of the restaurant’s attorneys and restaurant owner Tim Nguyen. “We came to an agreement, although I still think we did not do anything against our lease,” Nguyen says. Tysons Reporter also shared an update on the case today.
The Falls Church location of Hot N Juicy Crawfish is staring down an eviction lawsuit filed on June 1. Unlike in the District, there are no protections in place to prevent Virginia landlords from kicking out commercial tenants during the pandemic, when money and resources are tight. The governor of the commonwealth put a moratorium on evictions earlier this week, but it only applies to residential tenants. The family-run business now finds itself fighting for its future in the neighborhood.
Tim Nguyen and his wife, Laina Vo, opened the Northern Virginia location of the Cajun restaurant five years ago. They also operate a location in Woodley Park, plus 12 other locations across the U.S. Like all restaurants, Hot N Juicy Crawfish saw revenue plummet during the COVID-19 pandemic, when sales, until recently, were limited to take-out and delivery. Nguyen thought his Fall Church landlord, FMR Development LLC, would be willing to bend a little given the circumstances.
In March, Nguyen reached out requesting a rent abatement or deferment. He says he didn’t get a firm answer with regards to April’s rent and was under the impression FMR Development head Jeff Jeffrey was still mulling the possibilities. Then on April 10, Nguyen says he received a notice that Hot N Juicy Crawfish was in default for not paying April’s rent. “I emailed him and asked what’s going on,” Nguyen says. “I thought we were still talking about deferment. I recognize my mistake thinking that he would have compassion during the pandemic. I fell into his trap.”
“He dragged him along until it was clear it was late,” says Scott Rome, an attorney representing Hot N Juicy Crawfish at The Veritas Law Firm along with Chris LaFon.
Nguyen immediately tried to rectify the situation. A notice to vacate letter from FMR Development LLC’s attorney Jeffrey S. Romanick confirms this. Romanick wrote on June 3 that he rejects the six checks Hot N Juicy Crawfish sent to its landlord between April 17 and May 22 trying to rectifying the situation. The checks, covering monthly rent and late fees, were enclosed with the letter.
The complaint says that if Hot N Juicy Crawfish pays all rent due, late fees, and attorneys fees the eviction suit will be dismissed. Nguyen says he’s attempted to do, so there must be more to the story.
Rome and LaFon say Jeffrey, earlier in the pandemic, tried to force the restaurant to sign a lease amendment that would make it easier for him to remove Hot N Juicy Crawfish from the property in the future. “He basically said, ‘If you want me to look past this late payment, then you have to agree to leave the business if the building is sold,’” Rome explains. “This is a tenant who wants to stay. He wants to pay rent. He has paid rent. But they’re using him technically being in default to negotiate.”
Nguyen says he’s in shock and feels like he’s being bullied. A court date is currently scheduled for July 8.
Law firm Gross, Romanick, Dean & DeSimone, which represents FMR Development LLC, did not respond to City Paper’s multiple requests for comment. This story will be updated if Romanick gets in touch.