Despite a 4-1 vote April 4 by Bradenton Beach commissioners to terminate the lease of Rotten Ralph’s, hope remains to keep the doors open to keep the doors open at the restaurant.
The restaurant is located on the Historic Bridge Street Pier and, it’s owner says, has suffered financially since June 2012, when Tropical Storm Debby temporarily shut down the pier and ensured the long-term closure of the adjacent floating dock.
Concessionaire Dave Russell said the debt issue became worse when he learned the city policy does not allow for partial payments, and a $100-per-day penalty clause within the lease caused the debt to further spiral out of control.
Russell began working with the city to find a way to catch up on the payments and suggested the city take ownership of his restaurant equipment with an option for him to purchase the equipment back from the city.
At the March 21 meeting, the commissioners discussed the liens on the equipment, and gave Russell two weeks to finalize and clear those liens before commissioners addressed the deal at the April 4 city meeting.
Russell appeared before the commissioners saying the liens had been cleared, but was ousted from his lease anyway with only Commissioner Ric Gatehouse opposed to terminating the agreement.
City attorney Ricinda Perry said the lease language is contradictory to the proposed equipment agreement and that commissioners would have to amend the lease first, before accepting such an offer.
Commissioner Jan Vosburgh expressed disappointment in having to close a business that has been operating in Bradenton Beach for five years, and suggested Russell seek a loan to pay off the $50,000 debt.
Russell said he could do it, but it would take time. Commissioners then voted to send Russell a notice of default and to terminate the lease. Russell was served those papers the following day.
Further discussion on the Rotten Ralph’s Restaurant issue appears on the city commission agenda at 1 p.m. Thursday, April 18, at Bradenton Beach City Hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.
Russell said the city has agreed to hold off on closing the restaurant’s doors until after the meeting and that he has secured the funding to pay off the debt.
He was initially told he would have to close his doors, but the city has agreed to hold off on the closure.
“We have no intention of closing our doors,” said Russell. “We want to stay here. I love this community and I love the people.”
Apparently, Rotten Ralph’s customers love Russell, too.
“The support we are receiving from our patrons is overwhelming,” he said. “They have been flooding us with support and saying they want to write letters to the city to help keep us open.”
Russell said it’s been an emotional experience.
“I broke down and cried,” he said.
Russell said he has secured a loan to pay the city the $50,000, but that the loan was contingent on him remaining at the location.
He won’t be able to walk into the April 18 meeting with a check, but he said he can walk in with a promise to pay the debt, if commissioners reconsider their April 4 vote to terminate the lease.
“I don’t want to assume anything, but we’ve had a very good working relationship with the city for the past five years,” he said. “So, I’m hopeful they will see that I have done everything I can to come up with the money, and we can remain open.”