Lease dispute closes Bistro
The award-winning restaurant served its last meal at Century Center on Sunday
The Bistro at Century Center, an award-winning fine dining restaurant, closed its doors yesterday after to a disagreement over lease terms with its landlord.
The restaurant, which occupied the entire third floor of the 1750 Kalakaua Ave. condominium, served its last dinner on Sunday evening.
The Bistro's closure was sudden news for many of its regular customers, including Matthew Gray of Hawaii Food Tours, who included the restaurant in his Gourmet Trilogy repertoire.
"It's the ultimate place to end the evening for great tableside dessert," said Gray. "There's the fireplace, the grand piano, and the friendly staff... I am definitely saddened to hear that."
The Bistro had been operating on the site, previously occupied by Alfred's, for 3 1/2 years. It took over the space 5 years ago, but subsequent renovations took 18 months to complete.
Clifford Laughton, CEO of Hawaii Holdings, which owns the restaurant, said conflict with the Century Center condo association had been building over time.
The two sides have clashed over numerous issues, including the installation of a grease interceptor, which eventually went to arbitration.
But the heart of the conflict was the rent and lease terms.
Laughton says he understood there was a fixed, 15-year lease, which was the main justification for investing as much as $2 million in the restaurant to bring it into compliance with building codes.
The board canceled the lease, he said, and came back asking for double the amount of rent, based on an appraisal that included his own improvements made in the restaurant space.
But Ian Lind, board president of the Century Center owners' association, said the appraisal excluded improvements, and was based on comparable rent for other restaurants in the area.
He said the Bistro's lease was up for renegotiation following its first five-year term, and the restaurant was required to notify the board of its intention to renew it.
"We issued them what we thought was a favorable lease," he said.
The restaurant would, however, also have to pay for parking and common-area maintenance fees.
Lind said the board was waiting for a counteroffer.
Instead, the Bistro put up signs notifying customers it was closing its doors.
"It should have been a courtesy call, not a counteroffer," said Laughton. "They canceled our lease and then offered it to us for twice as much. It was just an ugly business practice."
Century Center, a high-rise condo with close to 300 units, is home to both businesses and residential owners. The Bistro is the only restaurant tenant in the building.
Lind said the space occupied by the restaurant was originally a commonly owned area that was supposed to be a private club for owners.
The Bistro, headed by chef Rodney Uyehara, employed about 40. Laughton said he is seeking a new location, preferably close to town.
He called Century Center a building in serious decline.
"I attribute this to both its asinine AOAO board and its apathetic owners," said Laughton. Within a period of little more than five years, this board has driven away two of Honolulu's finest restaurants while becoming notorious for permitting massage parlors, hookers and drug dealers to operate with relative impunity... I cannot envision any legitimate restaurateur in his right mind following us into this space."