A group of investors in downtown Petersburg is left with a dormant restaurant after pumping nearly $2 million into the venture, only to see its operator turn over the keys three months later.
Farmers Market Restaurant & Bar, which opened in late January at 9 E. Old St. in the city’s Old Town District, closed May 22, according to a lawsuit filed last week in the city’s circuit court.
The restaurant’s 10,000-square-foot, octagonal brick building, bounded by Rock and River streets and Cockade Alley, is owned by the city of Petersburg and was revived by a partnership between local real estate investors Alexander “Sandy” Graham Jr. and Tom Wilkinson.
Their group invested about $2 million to renovate the historic building, which was constructed in 1879. They struck a deal to lease the space to restaurateur Frits Huntjens, previously executive chef and owner of former Richmond restaurant 1 North Belmont.
Huntjens opened Farmers Market on Jan. 29, with a higher-end menu that featured raw oysters, crispy rockfish, broiled flounder, and pork belly and braised beef ribs.
The June 1 lawsuit claims that Fritz didn’t pay the restaurant’s rent in March, April and May, and ultimately surrendered the space back to landlords.
Graham and Wilkinson’s City Market Investors LLC is suing Huntjens and his Huntjens & Associates LLC for nearly $180,000 in damages, which includes $30,000 in back rent, nonpayment on a $100,000 promissory note and other claims.
Huntjens said he was unaware of the lawsuit and could not comment in an email Friday.
Wilkinson, founder and CEO of Richmond-based Maramjen Commercial Real Estate Development, would not comment on the lawsuit. He said the group hopes to secure a new restaurant operator for the Farmer’s Market space before the peak of summer tourism season.
J.P. McGuire Boyd, Jr., a Richmond attorney with Williams Mullen who is representing City Market Investors, would not comment on the case.
The lawsuit also claims that Huntjens spent $9,100 on a billboard ad for the Farmer’s Market along Interstate 95 on behalf of CMI, allegedly misrepresenting himself as part of that company.