Beloved Phoenix cafe asks judge to keep landlord from kicking them out | Phoenix New Times

Tres Leches Café asks judge to keep landlord from kicking them out

The landlord threatened to remove the cherished Phoenix establishment from its building in a dispute over its lease.
Tres Leches Café is popular for its vibrant atmosphere and Mexican specialties. It is now fighting to stay open.
Tres Leches Café is popular for its vibrant atmosphere and Mexican specialties. It is now fighting to stay open. Allison Young
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Located on the corner of 17th Avenue and Van Buren Street, Tres Leches Café has been a cherished establishment since opening its doors in 2018. But the beloved cafe is fighting in court to stay in the space.

In late November, the coffee shop and bakery adorned with cozy furniture received a notice from its landlord to vacate within five days.

It was an abrupt reversal from what José E.T. Rivera, the owner of Tres Leches Café, said were ongoing discussions about renewing his three-year-lease.

"I had been in contact with the property owner about renewing the lease since March, but she told me that she would no longer be in charge of the building and someone else would be in contact. Then the property went up for sale and rent in June," Rivera said.

Rivera initially signed a lease that ran from August 2018 through August 2021, then exercised an option to renew it for another three years. That extended the lease through August 2024, he said. In March, he sat down with property owner Otilia Diaz to discuss plans to stay in the space.

"It was a positive conversation," Rivera said.

But after the March meeting, Rivera said he could no longer reach Diaz despite multiple attempts. The notice to vacate came as a surprise, he added. So Rivera sued Diaz on Dec. 4 in Maricopa County Superior Court, alleging that the landlord breached the lease and asking a judge to enforce the extension. On Dec. 12, Rivera asked the court for a temporary restraining order to prevent the landlord from kicking the cafe out of the building.

The lawsuit alleged that the landlord failed to repair in a timely manner leaks in the roof and underground plumbing issues that flooded the kitchen. The lawsuit also alleged that Diaz didn't repair faulty HVAC units at the building.

On Nov. 28, an attorney for Diaz told Rivera to vacate the building within five days and accused him of breaching the lease. The letter also said the lease ended in August 2021 and that Diaz and the restaurant were a "holdover tenant" that owed at least $40,500 in increased monthly rent payments, according to the lawsuit. Rivera said in the lawsuit he continued to pay the rent — $3,500 per month — called for in the lease extension, which Diaz accepted without mentioning that the rent increased.

"Even for December, she accepted the original rent amount as I continue to pay it. She did not decline or reject it, or say that I need to send a remainder balance," Rivera said.

Neither Diaz nor her attorney responded to requests for comment from Phoenix New Times.

Adding complexity to the situation, the building is now on the market for sale or lease at a monthly rate of $8,500. According to Rivera, his lease affords him the first right of refusal to buy the building, a right he claimed was never presented to him as stipulated in the contract.

Although interested parties have toured the space, Rivera said, he remains steadfast in his commitment to keep Tres Leches Café operational. It is currently open seven days a week.

"It's the ultimate Mexican coffee shop experience," complete with a space that mirrors a traditional Mexican nana's house, Rivera explained. He now awaits the court's progress on the civil suit to determine the destiny of his cafe.

Tres Leches Cafe

1714 W. Van Buren St.
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