STOCKTON -- Just hours after Centrale Bar and Kitchen in Stockton was forced out on Friday, an application to sell alcoholic beverages was posted for L and L Entertainment Group for a business that would be called "Pacific Pub" -- a different owner, a different business.
DeeDee Sbragia, co-owner of Centrale, said she was shocked when she first saw the post.
"So it’s kind of sad, but we have to move on because we just don’t see a future there right now," Sbragia said.
Sbragia, along with other business owners inside this Miracle Mile building, says their landlord, Christopher Kitt Bennitt, has kept them in the dark about what city code inspectors claim is unsafe and dangerous.
"We really had no idea there were that many violations," she said.
Bennitt’s attorney questions whether the city acted lawfully and told FOX40 in a statement, "The city wanted to make an example out of my client by taking an extreme measure under the code in declaring the need for an immediate evacuation."
But Sbragia said Bennitt has been difficult to work with.
"He just wouldn’t work with us, and every time we tried to contact him… there was no contact.”
Bennitt’s attorney argued his client had been trying to transition the property to a new owner since January. A move, Sbragia said, was never relayed to them.
“A spokesman with ABC said that they received the application on May 19, weeks before the City of Stockton issued its eviction. Neighbors said even if the new owners get to open their doors, they can’t see themselves visiting.
"They’re going to have some tough shoes to fill, I guess," Linda Son of Stockton said.
“Best of luck to them, but I don’t think it has a really good rep anymore," Lina Touch, also of Stockton, said.
Sbragia said her focus now is getting their new restaurant, Central, up and running at their new location on March Lane by July 1.
"We have a lot of optimism. It’s going to be good and good food," Sbragia said.
Bennitt's attorney said they are trying to schedule a meeting with city officials so they can move forward with fixing the building's issues.
Statement from Kitt Bennitt's attorney Anthony L. Vignolo
My client has informed me that the liquor license notice was posted on Friday, June 9, while a locksmith, who was supervised by City police, changed the locks on the building. Regarding that notice, my client has been in discussions with Centrale – who my client contends has been delinquent on rental payments and occupying the property under a month-to-month tenancy since the expiration of its lease several years ago – to transition the property to a new tenant since January 2017. My client has also informed me that the liquor license application by the new tenant has been in the works for quite some time, as has Centrale's application to transfer its license to a new March Lane location.
I will also note that media coverage thus far seems to overlook the critical issue. This is not about whether repairs of alleged code violations the City contends have existed for the past five years (the nature and extent of which are disputed by my client) have been made, but whether the City properly exercised its power under the “Uniform Code for the Abatement of Dangerous Buildings” in determining that such alleged violations now suddenly constitute an “imminent” threat to life and otherwise create the need for “emergency” evacuation. For the reasons set forth in my prior press release, it seems, perhaps because of other recent events, the City wanted to make an example out of my client by taking an extreme measure under the Code in declaring the need for an immediate evacuation despite the need for such measure being wholly unjustified and contradicted by the history of this matter and the facts. Even if the City believed that there existed any alleged violation that posed an “imminent” threat to life, which is truly hard to believe in light of the history, the City had other options under the Code, including the option of requiring that repairs commence within sixty days. It is patently disingenuous for the City to claim the existence of these violations for over the past five years, conduct its most recent inspection in April, and then wait nearly two months to say for the first time ever that such violations pose such an “imminent” threat to life that no other remedy short of emergency evacuation is appropriate.
As of today, my client and his design professionals have requested a meeting with City representatives so that we can expeditiously resolve this matter, and we are waiting to hear back.
Anthony L. Vignolo
Property Owner's Attorney