Long-standing Italian restaurant closes on Singer Island after battle with developer

Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post April 21st 2010 Local & Business 4B

RIVIERA BEACH — Portofino Italian Grill, a beachfront restaurant and bar that has been operating at the Ocean Mall for 32 years and was known for its pizzas, steaks and pasta-with-seafood dishes, served its last meal Friday .

Owner Solomon Kedmi failed to pay $99,845 in past-due rent following a dispute with the mall’s landlord, builder Dan Catalfumo .

“Catalfumo won the battle, but he hasn’t won the war yet,” Kedmi said while workers prepared to move pool tables, speakers and other valuables out of the restaurant today . “It’s very frustrating to see all that you work for go down the drain.”

Kedmi, a veteran restaurateur from Israel, bought Portofino in May 2002. His company, Steakhouse USA Inc., has filed a damages lawsuit against Catalfumo’s company, OMRD LLC, and plans to add to his claim the loss of expected profit for the 12 years remaining on his lease.

Kedmi claims he was “choked out” by Catalfumo because of lack of access to his restaurant during construction, which began in May 2008. He stopped paying rent in September, claiming piles of debris, limited parking and poor lighting during construction contributed to a 98 percent drop in business.

Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Glenn Kelly signed an eviction notice for Portofino today . Kedmi has until April 30 to vacate the building. Kedmi laid off Portofino’s seven remaining employees Friday as the rent-payment deadline loomed.

“It’s unfortunate it turned out the way it did,” said Joey Eichner, president of Catalfumo Construction and Development. “It could have been a great success like Johnny Longboats was.”

The nautical-themed Johnny Longboats reopened Dec. 23 in a new, pastel-blue building at the south end of the mall. The restaurant closed for 18 months while its new quarters was being built.

Catalfumo leased the Ocean Mall property from the city for 50 years and plans to build 60,000 square feet of retail space for shops and restaurants there. Eichner said the company has no particular schedule for moving out two other tenants, 7-Eleven and Subway, that occupy old buildings at the center of the mall where new buildings are planned.Subway franchise owner Ted Pappas has operated the sandwich shop with his son, Chris, at the Ocean Mall since 1989. Pappas stopped paying rent in August, claiming mall construction hurt his business, but recently began making payments to the court on $26,000 in past-due rent.

Business at Subway has improved dramatically since the parking lot and new buildings opened at the mall in December, Pappas said. But he still has no agreement with Catalfumo for a new Subway space in the refurbished Ocean Mall.

“In spite of all that’s happened, we still want to be here,” Pappas said. “I’m very hopeful of coming back here.”

Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post April 21st 2010 Local & Business 4B