Grapevine Fine Food Market closed shop for the last time this week after its owners – Claudette Pentz and Viktor Kerschbaumer – were served an eviction notice by building owner Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation and its property manager, Meridian Group. The Trust, which maintains and preserves El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park and other historic county sites, owns many of the buildings surrounding the famous location that house other restaurant and residential properties. While both Grapevine’s owners and the Trust agree that store’s forced closure was an undesirable outcome to a long-standing and difficult situation, each party tells decidedly different tales about the details of the doomed relationship.
According to Pentz, Grapevine – formerly located at 126 East Canon Perdido Street – was put on unsteady financial footing early on when she and Kerschbaumer sank $400,000 of their own money into the building itself, completely renovating it in 2007 before setting up shop. While they were prepared to foot costs of the revamp, said Pentz – both owners were gearing up for a long haul, signing what they said was a 10-year lease (the trust, however, said it was a five-year lease with the possibility of another five) – they were surprised to hear they would also have to pay an additional $60,000 for a completely new electrical system. Pentz assumed the organization would pick up the tab, as the owners had passed along the electrical plans, but they found out otherwise. This unexpected expenditure, she said, effectively wiped out the owners’ bankroll, leaving them wanting for rent money even before they made their first sale. To accommodate their financial troubles, Pentz admitted, the trust worked out an alternative rent payment plan that intended to allow the market to stay afloat while it established a clientele and gathered financial momentum.
Pentz alleges that the Trust for Historic Preservation gave virtually no warning before serving her the eviction notice. “It came completely out of the blue. It was such a shock : we’ve been cheated so, so bad, it’s unbelievable.” As far as she was concerned, things between Grapevine and the S.B. Trust were fine; she said she wasn’t aware of any ill feelings or any deal-breaking issues over rent. In fact, alleged Pentz, two days before they were given notice, trust executive director Jarrell Jackman made his way to the shop to buy lunch, indicating nothing of the decision. For her part, Pentz says she feels taken advantage of: “They’re a big organization and we’re just two people, so they can basically do whatever they want. They just don’t want their image to be tarnished.”
While Pentz stated that Grapevine was always able to stick to the rent payment agreement, Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation said otherwise, claiming that the owners didn’t pay any rent for a number of months and that the trust simply couldn’t abide by the lost revenue any longer. “We really did try to work with them,” said the trust’s public relations and membership coordinator Jared Brach. “The way the Presidio State Park stays open is through rental income. So, we wanted them to succeed.” He stated that a number of attempts were made to contact the deli’s owners to discuss the issue, but, by the end, communication had effectively ceased. The trust says it did everything it could to help Grapevine, but that a collection of unforeseen factors, including a bad economy, were simply too much for the business to bear.
The organization’s representatives indicated they were legitimately sad to see the unique market go, and that the ultimate decision was nothing personal. “They did have a good product and good food and it would have been beneficial all around if they made it,” said Brach. Jackman was equally as disappointed by the outcome, indicating that the decision to evict Grapevine was not made on a whim, but stemmed from a long-term set of circumstances, “We’re very sorry about it, because they’re good people,” said Jackman. “For whatever reasons, they just had difficulties making it work.”