SANTA MONICA CANYON — The owner of Patrick’s Roadhouse is contesting an eviction notice he received in November, and now the fate of the historic restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway likely will be decided this month in court.
The property owners, Lee and Christine Benchay, did not return a call for this story and haven’t disclosed their plans for the site. Last month, they sent Anthony Fischler, whose father opened the restaurant in 1974, a notice to leave the premises within 30 days.
Their lawyer, Duane Hall, said there will be a civil trial within three weeks to decide the case.
“I expect within a month the restaurant won’t be operating,” he said this week.
Hall declined to explain why the owners want the Roadhouse off their property, except to say, “The powers that be in this case — the persons that own the property — have made a determination they’ve finally had it with the relationship and they want to terminate it.” He added, “We’re not evicting him for non payment.”
With its lime green facade and prime seaside location, Patrick’s Roadhouse has become a favorite for Santa Monica Canyon residents as well as a local landmark. Fischler said he’s holding out hope that a deal can be struck with the Benchays to at least extend the restaurant’s lease, but so far no negotiations have taken place.
“When it’s silent on the other side, I mean what can you do?” he said.
Hall said the Roadhouse has been leasing the property on a month to month basis for years and the Benchays were within their rights when they sent the 30-day eviction notice.
Hall acknowledged the Benchays have declined to discuss the matter with anyone directly, but said the owners would consider proposals presented to their attorney.
“I think it’s a little peculiar nobody seems to be doing anything concrete to try to resolve” the situation, he said.
In a court document filed Dec. 24, Fischler’s lawyer, Rosario Perry, argues the eviction notice was improper because his client had recently invested $8,000 in repairs to the property and because residential units attached to the restaurant property are rent controlled and require a longer notice period before eviction. In the document Perry also alleges the eviction notice was sent in retaliation after an attorney for Fischler’s ex-wife subpoenaed business records from the Benchays related to the couple’s divorce.
“Plaintiff was annoyed by this and decided to evict [Fischler] because of it,” Perry wrote.
Perry said his client is determined to fight the eviction, though ultimately it could be a losing battle.
“If he’s determined to get rid of us, sooner or later he’ll get rid of us,” Perry said of Lee Benchay.
By law the civil trial has to take place within the next three weeks in Santa Monica or Malibu. At least until then the restaurant will be open for business. Since news of the impending closure began to spread last month, Fischler said the Roadhouse has been “jam packed full with people,” many of them coming in to say goodbye or to voice their support.
“The restaurant’s not going to close until the judge tells us we have to close, and that’ll be at a trial,” Perry said.
“We are still trying to find out why they want us to leave because we’d like to try to work out something.”
Perry said there are no development permits filed for the Roadhouse site, so it’s unclear what the Benchays intend to do with their property.
“I don’t see what [Lee Benchay’s] rush is. We’re paying a good rent and the community enjoys the restaurant. I think he’s just mad at us,” Perry said.
Fischler said he doesn’t think moving the business would work.
“There can only be one Patrick’s Roadhouse,” he said. “I don’t think you could do it at another location. I don’t think lightning can strike twice.”
Not even the restaurant’s celebrity clientele seems likely to be of any assistance. Fischler said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who once was a regular and still drops in occasionally, has been made aware of the situation. But he’s not crossing his fingers for the governor to weigh in.
“I don’t know what he can do, really,” Fischler said. “If he steps in and writes a letter maybe that’ll help.”