Top Delhi cafe's Mumbai outlet shut, vendors, landlord claim seek unpaid dues amounting to lakhs

Feb 13, 2018, 08:45 IST | Hemal Ashar

Landlord and vendors file case for unpaid dues over Rs 30 lakh, but owners of the shuttered Summerhouse Cafe in Lower Parel deny allegations

Vendors who claim to have not been paid in full
Vendors who claim to have not been paid in full

Summerhouse Café at the Mathuradas Mills Compound, the Lower Parel maze that houses upscale food & beverage establishments, shut shop early this year. The entrepreneurs who used to run the restaurant have left for Delhi, leaving dues to be paid to staffers, vendors and the owner of the space, Pranav Mehta, say those waiting for their money.

At the Summerhouse Cafe space
At the Summerhouse Cafe space

Mehta, a Shivaji Park resident who had given his 5,000 sqft space, said, "I also have to get money. I used the space as a godown earlier; I had a denim fabrics business." He decided to rent out the space after seeing the area's ecology changing. Gone was the stodgy image of Parel, with its chimneys belching black smoke. Parrrrrel (roll those 'r's) was transforming into a hip hangout. The go-to crowd went there to gab over eclectic grub and drinks, bob to the beats at music concerts and swing to DJ nights. They attended poetry readings there, or mixed with bohemian advertising types, who thought of catchlines while sipping cutting chai and taking clients out to lunch on quinoa.

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Summerhouse Cafe
Summerhouse Cafe

Let's start
In April 2016, Mehta got into a leave and licence agreement with New Touch Café (that has the Summerhouse Café brand) for five years. All went smooth that year; the smooth sailing, however, was deceptive. "September 2017 onwards, the licencee (Summerhouse) stopped paying rent. Messages and calls went unheeded. I sent a legal notice in November 2017, demanding that the property be vacated. That too went unheeded. In early January, several employees and vendors were outside the café asking for dues. Some of the employees then put a lock on the café door. Summerhouse vacated the premises two days after that. They did pay something to the employees, I am not sure what. But I am the licensor, I have to get Rs 26 lakh from them in TDS," Mehta added.

Owner of the space Pranav Mehta with a few aggrieved vendors at the now empty Summerhouse Cafe. Pics/Ashish Raje
Owner of the space Pranav Mehta with a few aggrieved vendors at the now empty Summerhouse Cafe. Pics/Ashish Raje

Recovery pains
"I have filed a cheque-bouncing case under section 138 against the person running the café (for non-payment of rent). Laws in India are toothless when it comes to money recovery," said Mehta. "It is such a complicated and expensive process. I have gone to great lengths and taken pains to see that my record is clean. Summerhouse had not even replied to the legal notices I sent. That means you reward the law-breakers and punish those who abide by the law."

Hermit Sethi of an event management firm said, "Summerhouse Café owes me R75,000 for a DJ night that took place last October. The artiste's fees were R1.5 lakh. I'd asked R75,000 pre-performance. I got that after some reluctance. I was told the balance would be paid to me after the event. But it never came."

Aggrieved vendors
Vendors submitted a letter of complaint at the N M Joshi Marg police station on January 18. A copy of the same is with the paper. Cheese vendor Sanjay E said R80,000 was due to him, while Kamlesh K, who supplied imported food, said, "I have to collect R1.68 lakh." Another vendor, Omkar K, said R1.23 lakh was owed to him, and food supplier N Mattal has to collect R1.41 lakh.

The café management allegedly owes even the pest control contractor, Laxman B — R18,000. Vendors have, however, alleged that the police have dismissed their complaint as a civil case. "In January, we came here to ask for our money, but there was a lock on the door; the café had folded and the owners had disappeared," they added. John K from the group said, "We need a suppliers association; unity and structure will give us the strength to fight back when we are cheated."

Cooked our goose
Chef Anant Morajkar said, "I have a small amount pending — Rs 15,000 — in service charges. But counting the kitchen staff, we were at least 50 in all; so, cumulatively, the dues work out to Rs 3 lakh approximately. We were told that this outlet was closing but would re-open in Bandra soon. I think this was said to merely placate us, as nothing of that sort has happened."

Rs 26 lakh
Amount the owner claims is due to him in TDS

5,000
Area of the space (in square feet) rented out

The other side hits back
Café consultant S Walia said, "No dues are pending. We closed the café on December 31. On December 15, we'd told people to come in and claim whatever was due to them within 10 days. We have also cleared liquor bills. We do not owe anything to Mehta. I have an NOC from him about the closure, confirming everything is paid. It is Mehta who owes us R20 lakh as security deposit refund." Walia also refuted vendors' claims. "I have counter-complained at N M Joshi police station against some vendors not submitting bills with their challans," he said. "Going to the media with such allegations smacks of blackmail."

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