TAMPA — A suit filed this week in Tampa may cause a ripple of fear among local foodies: South Tampa's CopperFish, one of the most exciting debuts of 2013, has hit a rocky patch.
The plaintiff, Howard Park Properties, alleges that CopperFish has failed to pay rent since June.
The connections between the landlord and tenant are snarly, though. Gordon Davis is the president of Howard Park and owner of the building, but he's also partners with Kevin Enderle, brothers Chas Bruck and Kyle Bruck and Michael Blesser in SoHo Hospitality Management Group, which oversees Boca, Ciro's, the new Bizou Brasserie in Le Meridien hotel and CopperFish (Samba Room Tampa LLC is an additional limited liability company for the CopperFish location).
Davis attributes much of the current disagreement to the financial burdens of ongoing battles with the city, at one point owing more than $150,000 in fines.
"The zoning issues have been so expensive it's really been a divisive issue with the partners. It's about to destroy our company. We ran into problems with the Architecture Review Commission, which regulates design in old Hyde Park. We have $70,000 just in legal fees so far. Everybody thinks restaurants are so loaded, but it's a marginal business."
Enderle, president of SoHo Hospitality Management Group, insists the restaurant is zoning compliant at this time and that a previous valet parking issue has been resolved with the city.
"We're behind on rent, and we agreed to forego rent for the summer because it's slow. We're still working on the stuff (the city) had left on their list. But we're doing well, poised for growth and opening new properties in Orlando."
Does this dispute between partners, one of whom is the landlord, signal that CopperFish might go belly up?
"They're just behind in rent," said Davis. I don't think it's going to close. I anticipate it's going to get worked out. If we have to take the property back over, then we will."
Davis owned the French country Le Bordeaux at this location for 15 years, before it became the West Indies-inspired St. Bart's Island House, then a period as Ceviche and a short chapter as Samba Room before becoming CopperFish last May.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.