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This article was published 2/5/2018 (1112 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Ceasing operations suddenly on Sunday, The Wheat City Bar and Grill is no more.
That is, at least for the time being.
The restaurant opened late last year, a month after the building’s original incarnation, Browns Socialhouse, shut down.
The primary reason for this week’s closure, owner Blake Trotter said, was that the $4.5-million building was too large and expensive to accommodate the locally owned and operated business, which had yet to turn a profit.
"It’s just too big a building for something that isn’t a franchise," he said yesterday. "Brandon seems to be a community that loves the franchise."
There’s also an ongoing legal dispute between Browns Social House Ltd. and a group of defendants, which include Trotter, his brother Landon, and Blaze Enterprises Inc.
Among other things put forward in a statement of claim, Browns asserts that the defendants’ operation of The Wheat City Bar and Grill at the old Browns Socialhouse property at 1260 18th St. was in violation of the franchise agreement they signed before opening the building as a Browns in early 2015.
According to the statement of claim, the defendants were prohibited from running a competitive business within 18 months of the expiration or termination of their franchise agreement with Browns.
Built to accommodate a Browns Socialhouse, the building also retained too many of its original design features, according to the statement of claim, and as such misrepresents to the public that The Wheat City Bar and Grill is still connected with the franchise.
Browns terminated the defendants’ franchise agreement on Sept. 6, 2017, in response to a number of alleged breaches, which include their failure to pay a handful of suppliers in a timely manner.
Although the defendants deny these breaches in their statement of defence and counterclaim, they admit to carrying outstanding payments to suppliers, whom the statement reads, "they have every intention of satisfying."
Yesterday, Trotter declined to add too many comments to what was already laid out in legal documents.
"Me no longer being in that building is going to hopefully allow Browns to start to leave me alone," he said.
He said that Browns’ legal action came as a surprise late last year, since he had been under the impression that their decision to break from the franchise was mutual. The statement of claim arrived after they’d already parted ways.
This legal action has also delayed certain payments, Trotter said, adding that he’s currently putting together a strategy to pay off all outstanding debts by the end of the year, "so that 2019 isn’t the same as 2018."
These debts are for a variety of things and affect a number of companies, including some that operate locally.
"We fully intend on paying everyone; any and all bills that are owing," he said. "We’re not going anywhere and we plan on paying all the bills."
Trotter said that The Wheat City Bar and Grill employed approximately 20 people, of whom five have been offered positions at the nearby Astoria Pizza and Pasta, which is expected to open as delivery-only later this week — a soft opening in advance if its eventual grand opening, during which time its dining area will open up.
Astoria Pizza and Pasta will be owned by Toula Tarr, whose parents Steve and Barb Paras are the original owners of a local pizza joint of the same name and menu, which closed 13 years ago after operating in Brandon for 35 years.
The building the new Astoria Pizza and Pasta will operate out of, at 1675 Park Ave., is owned by Trotter. This property previously hosted Blü Kitchen and Bar.
The balance of The Wheat City Bar and Grill’s employees will have jobs waiting for them at a new, smaller, incarnation of the restaurant, which Trotter said that he hopes to open in Brandon by this autumn.
Browns Restaurant Group executive vice-president of business development Bruce Fox declined sharing additional information regarding this ongoing legal matter.
He did, however, write an emailed response that clarified they are "working to resolve this as soon as possible, for the benefit of our many Browns Socialhouse franchise owners across Western Canada."
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