City Paper is not for tourists
The dim sum desserts carrots at Hollywood, during happier times.
Spend a few minutes with Janet Yu, owner of the beloved dim-sum palace Hollywood East Cafe on the Boulevard, and she will spin you a tale sadder than anything Hank Williams ever composed. The way she tells the story about Hollywood East’s ignoble exit from Wheaton’s University Boulevard —- and, yes, Y&H realizes this is just her side of the story —- you practically want to pass the collection plate for her.
Yu’s tale starts in late January when her landlord returned her rent check. It was apparently the fourth time that Yu had been late with the rent money, and the landlord and his attorney decided to exercise a clause in the lease agreement to evict Hollywood East for late payments.
Yu, of course, was taken aback. Sure, she admits, she was late with payments, but she has still dutifully paid her rent every month for the past seven years, including the first three years when she was building out the once ramshackle structure on University. By her estimation, she sunk $500,000 into renovations, with borrowed money that she had to secure with the very home she lives in.
But when she tried to reason with the landlord and attorney, she got nowhere. She says she offered to buy the building or give the landlord three months’ rent in advance. Nothing doing, she says. She tried reasoning with the landlord’s daughter; Yu even hired an attorney who was supposedly friendly with the landlord’s lawyer. Still nothing. She heard that the eviction was a done deal.
Then she got sued for back rent, which Yu thought was strange; the landlord, after all, had refused her check in January. Yu finally decided to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with the idea that it might hold off the eviction.
In the end, however, Yu decided that the whole situation was “crazy” and that the legal fees alone were draining her. So she went on a search to secure a new location, which she did in the Westfield Shopping Center. But the location won’t be ready until August at the earliest; she had hoped to convince the landlord to keep her in the current location until the new one was ready. The two parties even worked out an agreement in which she would pay the recent back rent (plus hefty penalties), but the landlord wouldn’t budge on the move out date.
So Hollywood East will serve its last meal on the Boulevard on May 26. They’re hosting a farewell party on the 27th.
Yu isn’t sure why the landlord is so gungho to get her out of the building, but it may have something to do with rent. By her rough estimation, she pays about $2 per square foot for her space, a tiny fraction of what the landlord could get in today’s market.
But the owner has more immediate concerns than fretting over her landlord’s motivations. She has to pay off loans. In December, she closed her other Hollywood East location in an attempt to save money. Now she won’t have any revenue coming in for at least two months while she waits to open the new place. She’s thinking about opening a street food cart in the meantime or even a doughnut stand in Wheaton.
Y&H left a message with the landlord’s attorney, Morton Faller, but has not heard back yet. More as I know it.