BRANDON — Local barbecue aficionados, country music fans and motorcycle enthusiasts soon will have one less place to patronize in Brandon: Uncle Mike's Smokehouse Grill owners Mike and Simone Tolley took to Facebook on Tuesday to announce their landlords elected not to renew their lease.
Simone posted a letter online that she and her husband received from Tampa attorney Jill K. Bell of Hill Ward Henderson, who represents Cigar City Motors Inc., owner-operators of five Harley-Davidson of Tampa dealerships, including the one in Brandon. The dealership owns the property at 9847 E Adamo Drive where Uncle Mike's has operated for more than three years.
The letter reminds the Tolleys that the lease agreement between Uncle Mike's and the Brandon Harley-Davidson expired effective Jan. 1 and gives them 10 days from the date of receipt to "vacate the leased premises." For those used to the Thursday night line-dancing lessons, biker Sundays featuring live music and those famous smoked hog wings, Jan. 26 will be Uncle Mike's final day of operation at its Brandon location.
"They are in here until the end of the month, and we will look for a new biker-friendly, barbecue type tenant," said Gary Postle, the training manager in charge of operations for the dealerships under the Harley-Davidson of Tampa umbrella.
He said Uncle Mike's was the third tenant at that location. Postle would not say if the sides tried to previously negotiate an extension.
"We did not renew their lease," Postle said. "That's all I can tell you right now."
Mike, who had his January rent check returned, said the letter, dated Jan 8, was the first official notification he received regarding the lease not being renewed.
"Harley has given us no indication of, 'Hey we don't like you, you've done something wrong or we're going to bring somebody else in,' " Mike said. "People need to know what kind of dealership that is."
Mike said he "figured something was up" when he tried to talk with Harley-Davidson of Tampa vice president Gary Bang in November about renewing the lease. He said Bang went from referring to Mike and Simone as "partners" and working toward driving mutual business each other's way to being "conveniently out of town." Harley-Davidson Tampa did recently add a new dealership in Panama City.
Last August, the Tolleys opened a second Uncle Mike's Smokehouse Grill in their native Plant City when they took over a venue 14 miles east at 106 State Road 60 E. Mike said he doesn't think that had anything to do with Harley-Davidson's decision not to renew their Brandon lease.
"It's a country theme, not a biker theme," Mike said. "I wouldn't have opened it up if I thought it would have hurt the Brandon location."
Mike said he can't think of anything the Tolleys did to fall out of favor with Harley-Davidson. He did say that when he and Simone welcomed their first child, son Blake, last September, finances were tight and they fell behind on the rent but "got caught up."
According to Mike, the Tolleys have hired an attorney. They want clarity on the letter from Hill Ward Henderson that indicates they have 10 days to leave (even though Mike says the lease agreement states a 30-day notice is required from either side).
The letter also lays claim to outdoor coolers that Mike says he installed and still owes money on and demands the Tolleys pay double rent for every day they remain on the premises after Jan. 1.
Bell, the Hill Ward Henderson attorney, said it was firm policy not to comment on pending legal matters.
Mike says he is proud that, "we made something out of nothing" and that Uncle Mike's will be focusing its efforts on enticing their loyal customers to visit them at the Plant City site.
"In the last three years, we dedicated and poured our blood, sweat and tears to make Uncle Mike's Brandon as successful as it has become," Simone wrote in her Facebook post. "We have made it a landmark place for families, friends, charities and bikers to gather for great food, entertainment and events. We created an amazing business, which I now believe Harley would like to take over."
Eric Vician can be reached at [email protected]