Taste of Manhattan’s future in Stadium Village unknown

FBy Boa Lee For now, Stadium Village’s Taste of Manhattan Pizza is still open.

But it might close to make way for a new Noodles & Company depending on the outcome of a trial set for June 27.

The owners of the building are claiming that Taste of Manhattan should have moved out May 31, but restaurant owners said they negotiated a five-year lease extension.

Despite that the building owners have already entered into a 10-year lease with Noodles & Company, Taste of Manhattan co-owner Julie Wild said she remains hopeful jurors will be sympathetic to her situation and allow Taste of Manhattan to stay at its present location until 2008.

“We’ve never shown anyone we wanted to leave,” Wild said. “That’s our strongest argument.”

When co-owners Wild and Hassan Mohamed took over Taste of Manhattan Pizza at 616 Washington Ave. S.E. in 1996, they intended to offer University-area students, employees and visitors an affordable meal and personalized service for many years, Wild said.

This was something Wild, who is also co-owner of Mangia in Dinkytown, said she believed was missing from chain restaurants.

Noodles & Company spokeswoman Kelly Pascal Gould said her company is eager to move into both the space currently occupied by Taste of Manhattan and the former Blimpies shop next door.

“Stadium Village has been on our real estate books for about two years now,” Pascal Gould said. “Stadium Village is a great location because we seem to do well in college areas like it around the country.”

Wild said the possible closing of her restaurant means Stadium Village might lose a unique business.

“Now it will be more expensive to go to eat lunch,” Wild said. “Our prices let students and staff come in every day Ö things don’t come out of plastic bags Ö and we provide jobs for students.”

Wild and Mohamed said although their lease expired March 31, they thought the property owners had agreed to extend that lease for an additional five years. They claim they effectively communicated this extension request to the property managers in September 2002.

However, the building owners said Mohamed did not properly inform them of his intent to stay open, according to court documents. Even if they had communicated this, owners said it would not have mattered because Mohamed had been operating under an agreement signed in 1996 that does not include the option to extend the lease after 2003.

After Mohamed received a letter on April 20 telling him to vacate the premises, he filed for a temporary restraining order to keep Taste of Manhattan open. On June 10, the Hennepin County District Court denied Mohamed’s request and agreed that the proposed 1998 lease was indeed invalid.

If Taste of Manhattan does not move out, court documents said building owners risk losing Noodles & Company and more than $680,000, including approximately $250,000 that Noodles & Company would spend to upgrade the building. The lease with Noodles & Company also provides for higher rent.

The building owners could not be reached for comment.

Legal matters aside, Wild said she believes Taste of Manhattan is like “the little fish in the pond.”

“I hope that the jury will understand,” Wild said. “We aren’t attorneys and all of this can be confusing to the average person.”

Pascal Gould said she is aware of the situation between Taste of Manhattan and the building’s owners but she said Noodles & Company still wants to open and is ready to start construction immediately.

Wild said she wants her customers to know that if the space does go to Noodles & Company, she would feel bad.

“We’ve enjoyed being here and we don’t want to give up,” she said. “We started the business ourselves and want it to grow.”

Pascal Gould said the Noodles & Company in Stadium Village would be open seven days a week and provide approximately 30 jobs. She also said the company’s West Bank location will remain open.