It was a day that the owner of Feast restaurant felt like he could jump for joy and, well, throw a celebratory feast.
Andrew Goodman, who opened the eatery in 2012 as the second small plates dining concept in Southtown, rejoiced in a March 24 court ruling confirming he could stay put at 1024 South Alamo for at least the next three years.
"I'm just really happy and glad that it's behind me and all over with," Goodman said over the phone March 26, "I'm really excited to look forward to new projects, and that the city of San Antonio will continue to enjoy the amazing food of Stefan Bowers."
But that day didn't come without strife and consequences.
The legal battle turned into a drawn-out soap opera lasting nearly a year, including a six-day trial. Somebody's got to come out the winner while the other ends up on the losing side – but all seem to agree that the ordeal left them burned out.
As your humble food and nightlife editor, I'm tasked with reviewing restaurants and bars, and providing readers with the latest openings, closings and what-have-you that fill our burgeoning culinary landscape. It was unusual, then, when I found myself going to a court proceeding, sifting through documents and trying to sort out why exactly Goodman filed a suit against Santos Holdings, owned by Casey Lange, back on May 23, 2014.
This isn't the People's Court. I'm not an attorney (I don't even know where to find a power suit) and I'm not assigning blame to any party, but here's how Feast almost lost its home of three years ... as told by all involved parties through interviews and court documents.
Goodman sued Santos Holdings for breach of their lease agreements, in particular by refusing to extend the lease. Other reasons Goodman listed included being falsely accused of not complying with certain provisions of the lease as well as, basically, not being allowed to live a peaceful life as a tenant.
In other words, Lange wasn't going to extend Feast's lease and was allegedly trying to boot the eatery from its South Alamo digs. The original lawsuit also called for a temporary restraining order (granted on May 23, 2014) barring Lange from evicting Goodman or otherwise messing with Feast's operations.
Goodman said he actually sued to avoid a similar fate as previous Lange tenant who did get kicked out.
Lange, unfortunately, has a bit of a track record with locking people out. To be fair (truly trying my best here, honest), Feast isn't Saluté and Goodman isn't Azeneth Dominguez.
For those unfamiliar with that story, Dominguez ran out her month-to-month lease after 25 years at the storied institution on North St. Mary's during a brouhaha involving her tearing off improvements to the property, Lange locking himself in the bar and a visit by law enforcement. Saluté might have been an institution in its heyday, but it struggled in its later years, whereas Feast has helped turn Southtown into a current foodie hot spot – to the tune of 400 mimosa-fueled brunch-goers every Sunday.
For Lange, the dispute boiled down to Goodman breaking the lease in many ways, namely by putting in several additions to the historic building. Lange initially leased the building in 2006 to open Oloroso, eventually buying the joint outright in 2008. Because of its prime location in Southtown, any changes to the façade have to be cleared through SA's Historic and Design Review Commission.
Pardon this chunk of legalese, a statement by Peter Kilpatrick, lawyer for Santos Holdings.
"As to the portion of Mr. Goodman's lawsuit relating to the disputed renewal of the lease, at the risk of overgeneralization, Santos Holdings asserted the tenant made substantial changes to the footprint of the building without written consent of the landlord as required by the Lease, and that the tenant engaged in unauthorized additions and electrical and plumbing work without complying with local ordinances as required by the Lease.
For example, Santos Holdings alleged that the tenant was in violation of the law and thus the lease when tenant used an unlicensed contractor and failed to get building permits and permission from the City before modifying the structure that was originally built in the 1800's as required – the property is undisputedly located in the King William Historical District."
Yet the court sided with Goodman on the property upgrades, saying that Lange did not point out the apparent breach until much later.
And, in retrospect, that much seems to be true, Lange acknowledged – he should have done something sooner.
"I should have evicted him right then and there, that's my major mistake," Lange told the Current. "I let this stuff slide, I tried to be cool with them because I didn't want to start social World War III with them."
Lange pointed out that of the many building changes Goodman made through the years — a prep room, a dish pit , a 450-square-foot expansion to the dining and bar rooms, a metal lighting structure, among others — he had only agreed to the small prep room.
"The reason I lost this case was because I wasn't enough of an asshole when I learned about it. Therefore I waived my right to be an asshole," Lange said during an interview at his office last week.
The issue didn't start with a tree, as the rumor mill has it. It was actually sparked by a painting project in January 2014 – this is where Chad Carey of Empty Stomach LLC, comes into the picture.
According to Carey, his business partner Erick Schlather, approached Goodman about having workers paint the side of Hot Joy's building in mid-January. After a bit of back and forth, Carey circumvented Goodman and asked Lange for permission on the 10-foot shared property boundary where Feast keeps eight easily accessible recycling bins and five trash bins.
After Lange gave permission via email on January 27, Goodman asked Empty Stomach for liability coverage (in case a worker got hurt doing the paint job) and rightly so – no one likes getting sued.
The indemnification agreement drawn up by Hot Joy's attorneys was shared on January 28, along with a copy of the restaurants commercial general liability insurance, which would "indemnify, protect, defend and hold Santos and Champ of Camp [Goodman] and its employees harmless from and against any and all liabilities, demands, actions, causes of action, suits, claims, losses, damages, costs and expenses."
Goodman didn't sign the document, Hot Joy sent a crew over and cops were called, according to Carey.
Come June, Lange mentioned an interest in selling the Feast building – and Carey was interested.
"I was very serious about buying the building when Casey told me he wanted to sell it," Carey said via email. "We like the neighborhood, are already invested in the neighborhood, and it's a great building. Besides, I've been in the real estate business much longer than I've been in the restaurant business."
Though letters of intent were sent to Santos, that whole business of the sale stopped in June. Carey was deposed for court, but was not actually called in as a witness for trial in the case against Lange.
Lange and his counsel will explore options on whether to appeal or file for a new trial, as the ruling was likely entered on Tuesday, April 7. Meanwhile, Feast stays put. Chef Stefan Bowers and Goodman will finally move forward with plans to open a new restaurant, Rebelle, as well as The Haunt, a cocktail bar, both to be based at The St. Anthony Hotel.
"The space will be glamorous," Goodman said, "It'll be the same principle on a grander scale. We're taking what we do here and recreating that feel."
Their next project will hopefully come three or so months later, with the opening of the Firehouse No. 7 building, a massive undertaking where Bowers hopes to serve niche, regional Italian. "It can't be hoity-toidy, just good, fresh and accessible," the chef said.
So how will folks get along for the time being?
Carey doesn't see the possibility of being friends with Goodman, but it doesn't stop him from recognizing good work: "I think Feast is good for the neighborhood ... and I think Stefan is one hell of a chef."
For his part, that chef seems a bit more optimistic. "Everything heals in time," Bowers told the Current.
Lange, who had to shelve Hash, his breakfast dining concept for six months, in order to fund the lawsuit, lamented that the whole ordeal could give the burgeoning SA culinary scene an unnecessary black eye.
"I think it's sad and ridiculous. It's pitting the not-very-large scene in San Antonio against itself and that's the last thing I would have wanted," he said.
But perhaps a black eye or two, sadly, is still better than a knockout punch.
I point to our hipster neighbors north on I-35 where food trucks on South Congress have been displaced to make way for a new JW Marriott Hotel and just last week, Super Burrito closed its location at 1800 E. Oltorf — their landlord sold the building to P. Terry's parent company.
If I'm allowed rose-tinted glasses for a minute, let's keep San Antonio friendly, and let chefs cook. It's what I'd really prefer to be writing about, anyway.