Todd English has legal problems that could drive a man to drink - but not at Figs in Charlestown

Earlier this week, diners at Todd English's Figs restaurant in Charlestown started reporting an odd thing: They couldn't buy beer or wine. When asked, servers said something vague about some sort of problem with the liquor license but that it would be fixed soon.

Indeed there is a problem with the liquor license, although whether it will be fixed soon is another question. On Jan. 8, the Suffolk County Sheriff's department seized the license at the request of the Rouse Co., which is trying to collect on the more than $800,000 in back rent and interest English agrees he still owes on his failed Kingfish Hall restaurant at Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

In a letter to the Boston Licensing Board this week, attorneys for Rouse said they intend to "petition to transfer the license at the appropriate time" - to somebody who presumably is not named English.

Meanwhile, English's daughter, Isabelle, abruptly closed her Curly Cakes cupcake shop on Charles Street this week, although the shop says the closure is for "a complete makeover" that will result in "a new neighborhood hangout for all our local friends." However, her company is listed as one of the defendants in Rouse's Faneuil Hall lawsuit against her father.

The licensing board raised questions this week about whether the landlord of English's failed Olives in Charlestown can legally sell the Olives license - which he had seized in his own rent lawsuit against English last year - because Rouse's lawsuit also includes Olives of Charlestown as a defendant. Without a liquor license on hand, landlord William Carey says in a court filing in his own case against English, Roger Berkowitz won't sign a 10-year lease for a Legal C Bar there.

English's problems with Rouse seemed over last year, after two years of litigation and 12,000 pages worth of depositions. On June 27, Rouse and English struck a deal: English would settle the whole rent dispute by paying $600,000 - $300,000 right away and the rest within two months - an agreement that came after a Suffolk Superior Court judge agreed with Rouse that English was on the hook for nearly $1 million in back rent and interest and could move to collect.

According to court documents, English made the first payment, but never handed over the remaining $300,000.

In late August, Rouse went back to court, this time demanding the more than 800,0000 it said English now owed in back rent on Kingfish Hall and 12% interest dating to 2011, even after the $300,000 payment. Each day, Rouse's attorneys calculated for the court, English owes another $215.43 in interest.

In November, Rouse stepped up the pressure, requesting permission to attach English's wages from Olive Management Group, one of his many companies. English's CFO replied the company no longer pays English anything. Rouse alleges English funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars out of Kingfish Hall as payments to his other subsidiaries; English's CFO says the payments were only paper transactions for tax purposes and that no money ever changed hands.

Then, last week, Rouse effectively took possession of the Charlestown Figs liquor license.

The court filings in the Kingfish Hall and Olives cases show that even as English's holdings in Boston - where he got his start and where he still maintains a residence - were collapsing, he was still trying to expand his empire elsewhere in the country and around the world.

In late March, English's lawyer filed an emergency request to delay a deposition scheduled for the following week because English suddenly had to fly to Abu Dhabi for last-minute negotiations over an English-licensed restaurant "at the Venetian Village, adjacent to the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi Grand Canal Hotel." In an affidavit, English wrote:

The entity who is contracting me to pay me to license this restaurant has advised me that the restaurant will not open unless I come to Abu Dhabi this week. I therefore had no choice but to travel to Abu Dhabi on Easter Sunday. ...

I need the money from the Abu Dhabi contract to satisify my debts to the plaintiffs and others.

Rouse's attorneys opposed the request for a delay, saying English's personal inconvenience did not outweigh the problems rescheduling the deposition. And they added:

Our client long ago lost confidence in Mr. English's hollow promises that he will make good on his obligation at some point in the future, which have no credibility.

The judge in the case, however, granted English an extension - and warned no further delays would be allowed.

The need to appear on TV almost scuttled an apparent settlement over back rent at Olives.

Olives' landlord had scheduled the sheriff to show up there on April 27 to seize and shut the newly reopened restaurant. "Facing potential damage to his name and reputation," according to English's lawyer, the chef pleaded for one last extension to try to come up with the money. The landlord, William Carey, agreed, but said he had to have English's signature on an agreement by 4 p.m. that day - with no more chance of delays.

English's attorney replied in e-mail he would do the best he could, but that:

As we mentioned, he is on TV at the moment, doing a live show on the HSN network.

An English signature did get to Carey in time, but Carey had the restaurant - and its liquor license - seized on June 28 after the deal fell through. Carey claims that as part of the April 27 agreement, English agreed to pledge the liquor license to him. English says Carey slipped that into the agreement after he sent over the agreement and that he would never have signed that because he had already pledged the license to the Siegel Egg Co. of North Billerica.

The court wrangling between English and Carey continues, but English is currently at a disadvantage: After filing a counter-claim against Carey for allegedly failing to pay to fix the damage caused by a 2010 fire, English's Olives lawyers withdrew from his case.

Neighborhoods: 

Topics: 

Free tagging: 

Comments

I second that! Outstanding

By on

I second that! Outstanding job Adam!
Charlestown deserves better BTW...

up
31

Glad

By on

I'm glad that you are watching all this Adam, keeping it straight and reporting on it, because I can't make heads or tails of it.

up
23

Rouse??

By on

I understood that Rouse no longer had anything to do with Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Indeed, I believe there have been a couple of owners since Rouse's departure in 2004.

A Wikipedia entry shows that a new firm called "Rouse Properties" was created in January 2012, but the list of their properties does not include anything in Massachusetts.

up
14

They're baaaack

By on

There was another company that had a contract with the city to manage the marketplace (when did it switch from Quincy Market, anyway?). And they were actually the ones to sue English.

But Tom Menino wasn't happy with the job they were doing. I don't know if he canceled their contract or just let it run out a couple years ago, but whatever the reason, Rouse is now basically the leasing agent for the marketplace. And they inherited the lawsuit and kept it going.

up
19

More on Rouse...

By on

Here's what I gleaned about Rouse from Wikipedia, assembled from a number of entries:

James Rouse died in 1996, and in November 2004 The Rouse Company was sold to General Growth Properties in Chicago. For the next six years the name Rouse seems to have been absent from the commercial real estate market. After filing for bankruptcy in 2009, General Growth announced plans in August 2011 to spin off a new, publicly traded real estate investment trust called "Rouse Properties". The "Rouse Properties" firm now owns 30 shipping malls around the country; however, the list of malls on Wikipedia's "Rouse Properties" page does not appear to include any of the malls for which the Rouse Company was once famous.

At approximately the same time that General Growth spun off the new "Rouse Properties", General Growth also sold its rights to Faneuil Hall Marketplace to a different firm, Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., which also owns shopping malls across the country. Ashkenazy has also acquired some other former "Rouse Company" malls such as Harborplace in Baltimore and Union Station in Washington.

I'm guessing that Todd English's past-due rent must have accrued while General Growth managed the property, prior to 2011. When General Growth sold its management rights to Ashkenazy, the rights to the rental arrears must have been spun off separately to the new Rouse Properties.

Officially the name "Quincy Market" refers just to the central building with the food vendors. The entire complex has been known, since its redevelopment in the 1970s, as "Faneuil Hall Marketplace". The buildings and land are technically owned by the City of Boston, or by the BRA, but were leased to the Rouse Company for something like 99 years, back in the 1970s.

up
13

So many questions

By on

I say this in all earnestness: English sounds like he either thinks he is legitimately above the law, or like he is mentally ill. Opening more restaurants to pay the debts he owes to former landlords? Ducking out of court appearances at the last second on flimsy pretext? Involving his kids in his shady financial dealings? Accusing leaseholders of altering contracts? It sounds like he's running some sort of Ponzi scheme. What's his end-game? From all appearances, his creditors are closing in on him, and it's not like he can shuffle or hide his assets forever.

Meanwhile, who are these people who are leasing him space to open new properties? Do they not have The Google?

up
28

yeah

By on

i agree, the more that comes out about English the more of a slimeball he really is. He's just screwing everyone over in the process.

Maybe he'll go away on one of these 'trips' and just not come back to avoid his creditors...

up
16

Suggestion to the Licensing Board

By on

instead of asking whether English's landlord can legally sell the liquor license, why not just revoke and reclaim the license? After all, aren't liquor licenses actually City property, and not the business owners?

up
27

How do you drive a chain of

How do you drive a chain of successful restaurants run by a popular, celebrity chef into bankruptcy? English always seemed to ooze smarmyness from his TV show, so I'm thinking there's an ego on overdrive combined with a lack of business acumen that caused this to happen.

up
17

Wildly mediocre food

By on

I ate at Kingfisher maybe twice, the second time ONLY because someone in my party really really wanted to eat there. I was never really impressed. The food wasn't bad but the service was sub-par. To be honest, for the same price I would have had a better meal at Legals. I was expecting something more from Kingfisher given the hype, but didn't get it. Many a restaurant has crashed against the shoals of Location or Name alone. Location is important, but if you're serving mediocre food, name reconnection is only going to carry you so far. Apparently English could only carry on his name-based-pyramid scheme so long, and the funds dried out.

up
16

English used to be a great chef

Olives, in both its Charlestown locations, was brilliant, one of Boston's best restaurants, when English was actually there cooking every night. He also deserves credit for cultivating a lot of great lieutenants who have gone on to open or helm other restaurants: the list of talented chefs who did some time at Olives and credit it as a great learning experience includes Barbara Lynch, Tony Susi, Joe Brenner, David Nevins, Tiffani Faison, and Michael Serpa, among many others.

But once he started expanding beyond the initial two (Olives and Figs), a pattern set in: he opened one mediocre, overpriced shitshow after another, some of which succeeded financially, thanks to English moving from focusing on cooking to marketing. (A hilarious review of some of his worst in NYC here.) The ones that didn't succeed always found English screwing over his investors (like Cam Neely with Isola on the Vineyard, an early example of the pattern, and Eva Longoria at Beso in LA more recently), landlords, purveyors (some of which eventually wised up and dealt with him COD-only in his Boston restaurants) and worst of all, his employees, poor line cooks and servers and dishwashers.

He always manages to skate, and remains one of the wealthiest chefs in America. I don't think it's a Ponzi scheme that he's running: he has the money. He's just established a method of escaping his failures and saddling everyone else with the financial losses. I remain astonished that anyone in Boston would continue to do business with him with his firmly-established, reprehensible business ethics. It looks like at least one former landlord (the Faneuil Hall operators) has figured out a way to get theirs back. They won the civil action to the tune of nearly $1M last summer; as always, the problem is collecting.

Superb reporting work, Adam: thanks so much!

up
18

Neely was right

By on

Remember what Neely said about English years ago? More people should've listened back then...

up
15

I don't know what he said,

By on

I don't know what he said, but there's this:
"In 1993, the Englishes entered into business with Bruins star Cam Neely and his partners, Glenn Close and Michael J. Fox, in a Martha's Vineyard restaurant that, since opening two years earlier, had failed to turn a profit. Olivia, expecting their second child that summer, moved out to the island to run the restaurant, which they renamed Isola, while Todd commuted and kept watch at Olives and Figs. Open only for the short summer season and subject to the high price of doing business on the Vineyard, the restaurant failed. Lawsuits followed over who was responsible for the financial losses, the Englishes' friendship with Neely crumbled, and just about everyone involved lost money, including vendors on the island who were allegedly left with delinquent bills."
From: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2006/05/being-todd-english/

up
11

Yes!

By on

Thanks mungbean for the follow up. His quote about Todd English went something like, "I thought Todd English was a Chef but in the restaurant business he's merely a cook."

Every time I see English in the news I think about Neely and what he said. He had him pegged from the very beginning.

Neely was right wing for the bruins, is in the hall fame and is currently President of the Bruins, hp. :)

up
15

Thanks. When you used Cam, I

Thanks. When you used Cam, I knew whom you meant. Just the name Neely had me thinking that you were talking about some random Irish guy from Dorchester :-).

up
12

You won't find

a more straight talking stand up guy than Neely. A kid that lost both parents to cancer so he starts a foundation to raise millions to help others with the disease. He has his career cut short by a louse named Ulf so he takes over the Bruins and they win a Cup. He turns turds into ice cream and if he says you suck Todd, you suck.

up
18

Figs fibs Abu Dhabi

double talk. Oh boy if true this guy has some business track record. Perhaps new menu's can include time share and auto leases.

up
16

Interesting quote

By on

From that Boston Magazine article by Todd English: "I am the king of bootstrapping. I rob Peter to pay Paul all the time."

up
13

A lot of these situations are

By on

A lot of these situations are contract agreements. The hotel in abu Dhabi is paying him a huge some of money to have his name on it, but he doesnt own any thing. Situations like these he writes the menu, and sets the direction of the cuisine. After that he has to make a certain number of days in the place to fulfil the contract, and that is about it.

up
15

That may or may not be true

But what earthly bearing does it have on this discussion? The story is about how English has repeatedly screwed over his business partners in his Boston restaurants, and how those chickens seem to be finally coming home to roost. It sure looks (from the judge's perspective at least) like English has run out of excuses, however exotic and far-flung, to avoid facing the music on his Kingfish Hall debacle. Heaven help you if you are standing further back in the line to collect on Deadbeat Todd's debts, or have less aggressive lawyers than the Faneuil Hall operators.

up
11