Facing eviction over unpaid rent, Pandora Seafood House and Bar will become the second business to close in Rockville Town Square this month.
Landlord Federal Realty Investment Trust took the owners Siu Ping (George) Cheung and Chris Zhu of Pandora to court in August and won a judgment for more than $159,000 in restitution costs for unpaid back rent, plus court fees, according to Montgomery County Assistant Sheriff Bruce Sherman, who said the sheriff’s office served a final courtesy eviction notice last week to the restaurant.
An attorney for Pandora’s Seafood House and Bar confirmed the restaurant, located in the heart of the town square development, would vacate its Maryland Avenue space by Oct. 21. The restaurant opened in October 2017.
“Pandora’s giving up the key and they will be out by Oct. 21,” Rockville attorney Carlos Salvado said Wednesday.
The restaurant’s departure will mark the second closing in Rockville Town Square this month. Dawson’s Market announced it will close Oct. 27 after six years in business. Owner Rick Hood said the grocery store didn’t generate enough business to be financially viable.
Dawson’s announcement followed the September closure of the pizza eatery Mellow Mushroom and led Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton to call for an emergency town hall meeting to be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the VisArts building at 155 Gibbs Street in Rockville.
Newton will be joined by Rockville City Manager Rob DiSpirito, Director of Recreation and Parks Tim Chesnutt, Ricky Barker of Community Planning and Development Services, police Chief Victor Brito, and City Council members Julie Palakovich-Carr, Beryl Feinberg, Virginia Onley and Mark Pierzchala.
Vice President Deirdre M. Johnson of Federal Realty, which owns Rockville Town Square, is also expected to attend. Federal Realty owns commercial centers throughout the Washington, D.C., area, including Pike & Rose in North Bethesda and Bethesda Row in downtown Bethesda.
In an interview, Newton said she had received more than 200 emails by Wednesday from people who were upset about the grocery store’s departure. She noted that the city only controls the zoning of retail space, not its leasing.
“With that said, we are hopeful to have a different conversation going forward with Federal Realty about ways in which we can partner with them to bring vibrancy back to the square,” Newton said.
“Federal Realty is responsible to their shareholders and we understand that they need to pay their bills, but we are looking to make this a win-win for everybody.”
In addition to the two restaurants and the grocery store in Rockville Town Square, Apollo Restaurant, which has been in business on North Washington Street in Federal Realty’s nearby Courthouse Center strip shopping center for more than 30 years, also is expected to close at the end of October, according to staff.
“The manager gave us until Oct. 28,” Apollo waitress Beatriz Guglielmi said Friday. The restaurant’s owner could not be reached for comment.
Federal Realty would not comment on the pending closings or the legal action against Pandora.
“Out of respect for our tenants’ privacy and per policy, we are not able to comment on lease specifics, including anything related to a tenant’s business at Rockville Town Square … [or] anything related to a tenant’s business at Courthouse Center,” Johnson said in an email.
Newton is hoping another grocery store will replace Dawson’s.
“They were always a wonderful community partner,” Newton said of Dawson’s. “They supported Rockville and our nonprofits and hired local people. It’s a shame that there couldn’t have been a different outcome.”
Johnson said that while the Dawson’s Market site is equipped for another grocer to occupy, Federal Realty is also looking at other uses for the site.
“We are saddened by Dawson’s decision to close in order to downsize and focus on its original Richmond location,” Johnson said. “The premises is fully equipped for a specialty grocer to quickly and easily move in, so we are working toward that backfill. We are also exploring other uses such as entertainment, which would fit well within the context of the center and look forward to receiving feedback from the community.”
Newton said the town square needs more businesses that address the community’s daily needs.
“From the beginning, people have been asking for a home-goods type store, like Strosniders or ACE Hardware,” Newton said. “We need a book store and more shops that sell practical goods … .”
Meanwhile, Johnson said one new business is coming to Courthouse Center this fall and a restaurant is also expanding.
The Veterinary Holistic Care is scheduled to open at Courthouse Center by the end of October and the 1,500-square-foot expansion of East Dumpling House is scheduled to open by Thanksgiving, she said.
Hammer and Stain, a paint and sip store, is also slated to open Oct. 26 on Gibbs Street in the town square. Customers can sip wine while participating in do-it-yourself workshops on how to paint and embellish unfinished wood pieces.
Though Pandora will be closing Oct. 21, Cheung said he and his partner are suing their real estate agent, James Lin of Capstar Commercial Realty in Montgomery County Circuit Court, claiming Lin provided them with misleading marketing information and revenue forecasts as well as an inflated lease rate. “Lin had completely misrepresented the amount of revenue [we] could expect to generate due to leasing in the specific location. The neighboring restaurants were in fact failing and generating far less of an income that had been stated by the real estate agent,” Cheung said Wednesday in a text message.
John Lin, the principal broker of Capstar, said his company did not misrepresent the information presented to the owners of Pandora. Lin said his company helped the owners find a location that met their needs, which was the former site of the American Tap Room, and passed on marketing information provided by another broker.
“We gave them some locations of the market at the time and they really liked the location,” John Lin said. “We were representing the tenant and we didn’t misrepresent anything.”