Will Boneheads turn around sedate, quirky Court Street site?

June 26, 2013 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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On Court Street in Downtown Brooklyn there’s a skinny little office and retail building squeezed in between the two properties that house Bruno’s Hardware.

Wispy 93 Court St. seems like it slipped in from someplace like Forest Hills where the buildings are Tudor-style.

Its quirky look catches the eye – and so does the sign in the third-floor window above the locked-up storefront of long-departed Evergreen Gourmet.

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“SPACE AVAILABLE,” it announces in big red letters.

“Kindly leave name & telephone [sic] in building mail slot,” it instructs. “Showings by appointment only. Thank you.”

Whoever hung the directive in the window didn’t want to make it easy for wanna-be tenants to get in touch about the four-story building. There is no mail slot.

Is this a test to see who’s interested enough in the property to track down the leasing agent or landlord? we wondered.

We even asked a worker from Bruno’s to help us look for the mail slot, to make sure we weren’t missing the obvious. We wanted to drop off a note of our own asking for a chance to chat about the “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” space-marketing strategy.

So many vacant spaces in Brooklyn are plastered with brokers’ signs with a wealth of cell numbers, email addresses and websites to peruse. Whoever was playing hard to get had piqued our curiosity.

“Maybe put your note under the front door,” suggested Willy Ramos, who recalled seeing demolition work going on inside the shut-down deli for a while last winter.

“They had a dumpster,” he said. “They threw out a lot of stuff.”

We slipped our note under the door and waited a couple days. When impatience got the better of us, we ferreted out the building owner’s contact info and phoned him.

Ramos was right.

Landlord John Vendikos hung the sign himself, he told Eye on Real Estate. Prospective tenants are supposed to slip their business cards under the door. Vendikos, whose company Tomtro Realty Corp. operates out of Ditmas Park, said he stops by 93 Court “maybe twice a week” to collect them.

“We have a great deal of interest,” said Vendikos, who is Tomtro’s president. “We’re being choosy.”

He wants one tenant for the combined second, third and fourth floors of the tiny building, “a stable tenant with a stable clientele,” he said. The total size of the upstairs space is 4,000 square feet, online records indicate.

Law firms and architects have been asking about the space, he said.

It makes perfect sense that architects would be into the unusual building. As Brownstoner’s always instructive “Building of the Day” writer Montrose Morris wrote last year, 93 Court was designed  in the 1920s by architects Martyn Weinstein and Samuel Malkind to be their office.

Originally it had a lot more Tudor details.  Above the storefront awning a “heraldic-style shield” is still visible, decorated with a builder’s T-square and the two men’s initials.

Prospective tenants who want to ingratiate themselves with their possible future landlord should follow his instructions and not try to call him first: “I really don’t like talking,” Vendikos said.

He’s lined up a new tenant for the first floor and cellar, though its arrival has been delayed: Boneheads, a beach-themed fast-food restaurant that dishes up grilled fish, and chicken made with Piri Piri pepper sauce from South Africa.

The tenant’s identity was first revealed in late December by the Brooklyn Heights Blog. A few days earlier, the Daily News had reported that the Atlanta-based company would open a restaurant in March on the Downtown Brooklyn end of Court Street, but did not specify which building. 

In March the city Buildings Department disapproved a plan to replace 93 Court’s storefront, redo interiors with a new drop ceiling, partitions, finishes and equipment and make roof and stair repairs.        

The franchisee is making “amendations” to their plan, Vendikos said.

Will it really cost $1 million to make the space that housed a deli fit for use as a restaurant, as a source suggested? “I wouldn’t know one way or another,” he said.

We called Boneheads’ Atlanta headquarters and one of the Brooklyn franchisee partners to ask for a  revised timetable for their Court Street restaurant.

“I can tell you that Boneheads is still planning on going into the space,” said company publicist Kelly Ronna. “Unfortunately, the franchisees ran into structural problems, which has caused construction to be delayed.”

Company chairman Ron Barber, who’d been traveling, did not make himself available for an interview. The franchisee kept mum, too.

Though it’s taking Boneheads longer than anticipated to get started on rebuilding its 3,300-square-foot restaurant site, Vendikos predicted it will be worth the wait.

“They will have a beautiful product and cater to the wants of the neighborhood,” he said. “It will be a good place for residents and workers.”   

Tomtro has a long history with the building. The family company bought 93 Court in 1967 for $63,000 as the highest bidder in a U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York foreclosure sale, city records show. Back then, Sadie Vendikos, who was John’s mother, was company president.

In 1987 the landlord signed a 25-year lease for the whole building with a deli tenant. The company that eventually took over the deli lease, Boro Grocery, later spent several years in court battles with Tomtro.

After years of duking it out in various cases in state Supreme Court, the deli was evicted in August 2011.

In a case in which the deli owner was the plaintiff, Justice Yvonne Lewis wrote in a May 5, 2009 memorandum, “The plaintiff charges that the defendant appears to have regretted leasing the building for 25 years … at a time when the area had not developed as it has today, and that the defendant appears to want to take back the premises and lease it out for a higher rent.”

The rent for the building had been $6,500 per month starting in December 1987, then $7,000 per month in the second and third years of the lease, with 5% annual increases after that, court records indicate. 

Vendikos had a simpler explanation for his objections to Boro Grocery: “They didn’t live up to their lease,” he said. “It was time for them to go.”

The president of Boro Grocery remains bitter about the outcome of their legal wrangling.

“We lost a lot of money,” Jai Hoan Lee told Eye on Real Estate. “We were new [to the deli business] and we didn’t know the landlord had that much power. I’m too old to deal with it – I just gave up.”

Vendikos, looking forward to having a new tenant, is upbeat despite its delayed arrival. The restaurant will be a more suitable tenant than the deli, he said.

“The area is growing by leaps and bounds,” Vendikos observed. “We want someone in there who will give back to the neighborhood what the neighborhood gives to them.”

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