SM CANYON — A legal dispute between the owner of Patrick’s Roadhouse and his landlord is nearing an out-of-court settlement, but there appear to be few options left for keeping the historic restaurant in business long term.
Lee and Christine Benchay, who own the property on Pacific Coast Highway just north of Santa Monica where Patrick’s Roadhouse has done business since 1974, sent owner Anthony Fischler an eviction notice in November and followed up with a court summons when he hadn’t left the property after 30 days.
A judge was scheduled to decide the Roadhouse’s fate in a Santa Monica courtroom Wednesday, but lawyers from both sides said they agreed to postpone the trial and are in negotiations to settle the disagreement.
Over the years the restaurant has become a neighborhood favorite as well as a local landmark for its unique decor, lime green facade and celebrity clientele.
Duane Hall, who is representing the Benchays, said his clients agreed to let Fischler remain in business for another year if he would increase monthly rent payments from $5,400 to nearly $9,000.
It’s an increase that Fischler said the business can’t sustain.
“There may be a number that is doable, but what they’re asking for is just not doable, not in this economy,” he said.
Though the proposed increase is large, Hall said the Benchays are actually entitled to even higher rent on the property, and have been for years. Under the existing lease, which stipulates yearly rent increases and says the tenant is responsible for tax and insurance costs, Hall said Fischler should be paying about $13,000 per month. The Benchays have simply been letting the Roadhouse slide.
“The landlord’s been more than generous,” Hall said.
Hall said if the Roadhouse can’t meet the financial burden his client will likely require the restaurant to close by the end of March.
“They have to leave, it’s just a matter of when,” he said.
Fischler on Wednesday acknowledged he’s been getting a break from the rent required under the lease agreement, but said the lease was unreasonable and in any case was never enforced.
“That lease was signed a long, long time ago and those things were never exercised. At some point it just doesn’t make sense.”
Business, he said, has been steady, but there’s only so much revenue an independent restaurant that only serves breakfast and lunch can generate.
“We’re not the Red Lobster,” he said.
While negotiations have centered around financial considerations, Hall this week confirmed that “the motive for the eviction has nothing to do with the money.” He said Lee Benchay only took action against the Roadhouse after Fischler’s divorce proceedings resulted in a subpoena for extensive business records.
“When he got hit with the subpoena to provide his records in connection with Fischler’s divorce he said ‘I can’t do this, I can’t deal with this,’” Hall said.
The last remaining hope to preserve the business in its current location could be for Fischler to sign the business over to the Benchays.
Fischler said his landlord proposed taking over the Patrick’s Roadhouse brand during negotiations, and said he’d consider the offer if a way to guarantee the restaurant would have a long-term future and wouldn’t be significantly altered or turned into a franchise could be devised.