LIMA — When Ohio restaurants re-open their doors to restricted indoor dining options Thursday after a two-month shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Teasers Diner in downtown Lima will not be among the establishments welcoming customers.
In fact, the eatery will not open anytime soon and, according to one of the diner’s owners, will never again do business at the 312 N. Main St. location it has called home since last summer.
Despite the message on a hand-written sign inside the restaurant, however, the restaurant’s departure from downtown is not because owners “failed miserably,” according to Teasers co-owner Todd Sterling. The sign in the window, he said, is simply another dagger thrown in what has become a contentious civil lawsuit filed by Sterling and his business partner, Matthew Treadway, against Ed McPheron, the building’s owner.
On Tuesday, Sterling said Teasers is finalizing plans for a new establishment in Lima’s Eastgate shopping center. The owners have been given access to the building rent-free for the duration of the novel coronavirus pandemic and plan to use that time to enhance the empty site that once housed Ralphies and transform it into a major entertainment center on the city’s east side.
Sterling and Treadway are tentatively hoping for an October opening. In the meantime, there are a slew of legal issues that must be resolved.
The duo, doing business as The TAPS Foundation LLC, filed suit in Allen County Common Pleas Court against McPheron and Gemquest LTD in January. The lawsuit alleges a multitude of electrical, sewage and other health code violations that were masked by McPheron before the restaurant owners entered into a purchase agreement.
The suit also makes unsubstantiated allegations that county health code violations were intentionally overlooked and that “favors were given in order to pass any inspection needed in which Gemquest was issued a health permit.”
In his counterclaim, McPheron asserts that Treadway and Sterling “voluntarily assumed the risk of their own alleged injuries and damages” by agreeing to purchase the property “as is.”
In a motion to dismiss the suit filed Monday, attorneys for McPheron further allege that TAPS Foundation LLC is a “fictitious entity not registered by the state of Ohio” and that the allegations in the lawsuit have no merit.
The sign in the window stating that Teasers’ owners “failed miserably” was placed there by McPherson according to Sterling, a move Sterling found infuriating. It’s not the first time he’s been disgusted by some of what he sees in Lima, including what he believes to be a subtle but distinct lack of support for small businesses from community leaders.
On March 31, Treadway posted on his private Facebook page that Lima Mayor David Berger “is doing nothing to help our community.” Sterling said the comments were made mostly out of frustration.
“A lack of community support had a little bit to do with our decision to leave downtown,” Sterling said. “Matt was upset that when COVID-19 hit that the mayor wasn’t taking any action to calm people’s fears and that he just stayed in the shadows.”
That alleged lack of leadership has prompted Sterling to consider a mayoral campaign of his own.
“I want to make some changes to make sure conditions are improved for our citizens in a variety of ways. We have no leadership, in my opinion, that has spoken out for the people or has done anything to attract new business,” he said.