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.