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Carefree Station Shutters: Owners Explain Poor Building Conditions and Problems with Landlord in Passionate Letter to Friends

On Saturday, September 28, Carefree Station, the nine-year-old Southwestern restaurant located in Carefree's Spanish Village, closed for the weekend citing "unforeseen circumstances beyond our control" via their Facebook page.

By last Wednesday, Carefree Station still had not opened its doors. A representative for the restaurant, owned by Robert and Linda Gabrick, said the reason was a dispute with the building's landlord and that the Gabricks currently were "trying to deal with that situation so they can come to some resolution."

It seems they have.

See also: September Restaurant Openings and Closings in Metro Phoenix

On Saturday, October 5, the Gabricks sent out a passionate and lengthy e-mail addressed to their "Carefree friends" (you can view it after the jump in its entirety). In it, they concede that Carefree Station has shuttered. They also address three specific rumors regarding their relationship with the building's landlord, rent payments, and money owed.

On the condition of the building, the Gabricks had this to say:

"The buildings had many problems. Many times sewage backed up into the bar, feces and toilet paper (it was our lowest point), and we mopped it up and sanitized. Often there was a strong sewage smell in the restaurant, we burned incense. When stucco fell off the outside walls we built plant shelves to hide it. When it rained, the lights in the garden would short out leaving the garden dark, we worked around it."

On the rationale for the lockout, the Gabricks' letter outlines a possible scenario having to do with the landlord discovering they had signed a lease for Scottsdale Station -- what would have been the couple's third "Station" restaurant (not yet open) on Hayden Road and Via de Ventura (the Gabricks currently own Prescott Station):

"The rumor was that our landlord got wind of the third restaurant, thought we would close Carefree Station in the middle of the night and take everything in the restaurant with us. That apparently became the landlords reasoning to hire a private security company to lock us out. I cannot speak for our ex landlord, I can only speak for Linda and myself. It NEVER entered our minds to consider doing that."

And finally, on the aftermath, the Gabricks' letter sums it up like this:

"The current owners paid $1.3 million for the property, the lease they wanted us to sign had us taking responsibility for $800k. They locked us out and took possession of inventories of food, liquor, wine, and beer. They took possession of it all. I guess they got a pretty good deal."

Here's the Gabricks' letter in full:

 

To our Carefree Friends,

I wanted to follow up with you since Linda and I have had many, many people reach out to us, both with concern for us and a desire to know what is happening. At this moment there is not much new to report, so with the passing of time it now seems that Carefree Station is gone. We are unbelievably sad about this. But, at this time there has been no progress. We have had a love affair with the town, with our customers and with our staff for so long. We poured a great effort into Spanish Village. The buildings had many problems. Many times sewage backed up into the bar, feces and toilet paper, (it was our lowest point) and we mopped it up and sanitized. Often there was a strong sewage smell in the restaurant, we burned incense. When stucco fell off the outside walls we built plant shelves to hide it. When it rained the lights in the garden would short out leaving the garden dark, we worked around it. Jan, our host, artist, but mostly friend took over the care of the garden and it was beautiful. Our handicapped guests would often complain of ADA non-compliance. We did the best we could. We had 3 landlords over the last 4 1/2 years. We tried to be the constant in the center for the community. The ebb and flow of business in Carefree is difficult. We would, like chipmunks, stash money away during season to make it through the summer. The busier we got, the better and better the staff needed to be, so we paid more and our difficulty making through the summer increased, but fortunately so did our number of customers and stash. It was always a challenge. One of the calls we received from one of our Midwestern guests suggested that everyone in Carefree contribute $1,000 and buy Spanish Village, much like Green Bay owns the Packers. Another of our guests, who experienced a bar sewage backup and our subsequent, that evening, closing of the bar suggested the town condemning Spanish Village. Extremes perhaps, but I will contribute $1,000!

I also wanted to address a couple of rumors that I have heard going around so as to allow the people we care about to have a better insight into our world at Carefree Station. There are 3 specifically. The first one concerns our upcoming restaurant in Scottsdale. We, just a couple of days before we were locked out, signed a lease on what was to be our third "Station" restaurant. It was indeed intended to be expansion. In my head, having 3 restaurants would allow us to afford to hire a Director of Operations who could run those 3 operations. The goal was to one day allow Linda and I a break, maybe even to one day to retire. The rumor was that our landlord got wind of the third restaurant, thought we would close Carefree Station in the middle of the night and take everything in the restaurant with us. That apparently became the landlords reasoning to hire a private security company to lock us out. I cannot speak for our ex landlord, I can only speak for Linda and myself. It NEVER entered our minds to consider doing that. We had 10 years of our lives spread throughout the space, it would have been impossible, even if we had had that thought. We were even as foolish as to hire our landlord's contractor to build out our new space. We never thought to be paranoid. He had done some construction for us and we liked him and his work. What is true? We do not know.

The second rumor was that we were not paying full rent. That rumor is partially true. Ever since we opened in 2004 we paid half rent from June 1 through the end of September. It we always accepted. When the bank foreclosed on the center, they accepted half rent. For the last 3 summers the current landlord accepted half rent. With the half rent payment of Sept. this year, I sent a note acknowledging that on October 1st, we would go back to paying full rent, like we had done for the prior 9 summers. The September rent check was cashed and cleared. And we continued to operate as we always had.

The third rumor was that there was a large amount that we owed, that we were refusing to take responsibility for. To that rumor, I must bear my soul and go back to the days before we created Carefree Station. In 2003, we were asked by a mutual contact of the then owner of Spanish Village, Doug Dragoo, if Linda and I were interested in partnering with Doug on a new restaurant, which would become Carefree Station. We believed that it would be a hard go, but if it could make it the first years we could make the property something special. We agreed to be the Managing Partners of the restaurant. We would put in an agreed to amount of money, which we did, and Doug would pay for the remodel of his property. Prior to opening, Doug stated he was advised that he should not be a partner, the reasoning was because of needing to be on the liquor license and that responsibility for liability. With all of the properties he owned, he was advised against having ownership. That did not seem to be a major issue until just prior to the restaurant opening. Now that he was just the landlord, he did not want to be responsible for the Improvements done to the building. The space where the restaurant was located cost many dollars more than anyone anticipated. So, at the last minute he gave us a note to sign, making Linda and myself responsible for all of the money spent to improve the restaurant space. I told him, the restaurant could never afford that, would never be able to pay that amount of money back. It was impossible. He told us if we signed it, he would never ask us to pay it. We had sold our home in California, we had left our jobs to do this restaurant project, we felt trapped. Under duress, we signed. There was no personal guarantee. To Doug's credit, he never asked for a payment, even when the center was going back to the bank. When the bank foreclosed, we declared the agreement with Dragoo. When the center was being looked at by various potential buyers, we told each group of the agreement. We did not know if the note carried over to the new owners, but we declared it. We declared it to the current owners. At first, Lonnie Draper, the new owner's agent at the time, pledged co-operation and acknowledged our importance to the center and promised us a new lease. That never happened, but once again no one ever asked for a payment on that note. I must at this point speak to the effects of that note on the psyche of both Linda and myself. During the first years of endless struggle to keep the restaurant open, we could never look to find a partner or seek loans, we had to figure it out on our own. There were times my staff would tell me I never smile, many evenings I would work the kitchen because of the weight of that note had on me making it difficult to be with our guests. There was the wondering when and if someone would pull out the note and perhaps end our efforts. Through all of the years we made it. We started working on a new lease with the landlord's broker in April of this year. The broker asked me to put a proposal together. I did. The most important thing we asked for was to not have that 10 year old note be involved going forward. Over the following months we all negotiated back and forth. When the final deal was presented the 10 year old note was still there. The property was 10 years old, depreciated and in many cases long replaced. Our attorneys strongly advised against signing it. Mentally, we could not. It had to end. We could not continue to live underneath that potential hammer. The current owners paid $1.3 million for the property, the lease they wanted us to sign had us taking responsibility for $800k. They locked us out and took possession of inventories of food, liquor, wine and beer. They took possession of it all. I guess they got a pretty good deal.

That is it. I am sorry we cannot be there for our guests any longer. Sometime soon, there will be a "Scottsdale Station" and perhaps we will meet again.

Robert and Linda Gabrick

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