The door to Silver Spring Caribbean-Style Restaurant has a handwritten notice taped to it that reads featuring teddy’s roti. The sign is really the only way customers of the former Teddy’s Roti Shop, that 14-year-old Trinidadian institution on Georgia Avenue NW in Shepherd Park, could know that the operation recently set up shop in this isolated, mango-colored structure just across the parking lot from the Silver Spring Metro station.
Business, says co-owner David Nagar, has taken a nose dive since the move. Nagar and his wife, Delia, came to share this godforsaken piece of real estate after their former landlord decided not to renew Teddy’s lease. Sure, the foot traffic is great here, but commuters seem more interested in a quick breakfast than in Teddy’s well-regarded flatbreads known as roti and buss-up-shut (a mush-mouthed pronunciation of “busted up shirt,” which is what the mashed-up pancakes look like). In fact, says David Nagar, sales are alarming, nearly 90 percent lower than what they were on Georgia Avenue. “People just want a coffee and a bagel,” notes Delia Nagar. “They don’t have time to waste.”
The Nagars’ dramatic reversal of fortune—from a spot on the Washingtonian’s Cheap Eats for 2007 to this Silver Spring purgatory—has the couple struggling for answers, scapegoats, anything. Their main villain is a former employee by the name of Omattee Seiusarran.
The couple believes that Seiusarran, who worked part-time at their shop and at a restaurant named Taste of the Caribbean in Capitol Heights, convinced her other boss to make a run for the Georgia Avenue space. Seiusarran, the couple says, not only knew their lease was set to expire on Oct. 31 but also knew how much they paid in rent each month, giving Taste of the Caribbean all the information it needed to outbid the Nagars for the prime location.
Seiusarran’s motivation was simple, David Nagar believes. Lorraine McPherson, owner of Taste of the Caribbean, was going to install Seiusarran as manager of the new location on Georgia Avenue, giving the lowly wage drone a raise in both status and fortune. David Nagar says a customer told him in mid-October about Seiusarran’s alleged defection.
The Nagars could hardly believe their ears. The couple, after all, had helped to bring Seiusarran over from their native Trinidad and Tobago nearly seven years ago. They gave her a job, put her up in their home for six years, and even shuttled her around town when needed. “She had everything,” says David Nagar, rattling off a list that included cable TV and a private bathroom. “She never paid a dime for nothing.”
When the couple heard the story, they immediately confronted Seiusarran. “I treated you as a daughter,” David Nagar recalls saying to Seiusarran, “and this is what you did to me.” He handed Seiusarran her pay and fired her immediately. Two weeks later, Teddy’s Roti Shop would be empty, stripped to the bare walls.
David and Delia Nagar paint a compelling picture of hardworking business owners and humanitarians stabbed in the back by an ungrateful employee. But how much of their depiction is accurate? This much is true: McPherson has signed a three-year lease for the former Teddy’s Roti Shop space, thanks to a tip from someone—but not Seiusarran, McPherson says—who told her that the location would be available on Nov. 1.
Everything else is a battle of words, and both sides are well-equipped.
Landlord John Cofer would not speak on the record, but McPherson says she began looking into the Georgia Avenue space in mid-September, or a couple of weeks after Cofer, she notes, had already given the Nagars their 60-day notice. Cofer, says McPherson, told her he decided not to renew Teddy’s lease because “he had really had enough” of David Nagar.
“When you rent a commercial space, you are responsible for the upkeep and the upgrade of that unit, and I guess [David Nagar] didn’t realize that,” McPherson says. “He allowed the unit to be degraded and go down without trying to fix it up, and maybe that’s where part of the rift with him and his landlord [started].”
David Nagar denies poorly maintaining the space during the seven or so years he ran Teddy’s, which was originally opened in 1993 by his brother, the namesake Teddy. But Nagar does acknowledge taking all the appliances, from sinks to stoves, from the premises when he left. They were his possessions, he says, even if commercial leases typically stipulate that equipment remains the property of the landlord. The Teddy’s co-owner also acknowledges that he showed up at McPherson’s restaurant in Capitol Heights and tried to sell her back the equipment at a discount.
McPherson remembers David Nagar’s early November visit. But she remembers it for different reasons. She says he and several of his friends, maybe six in all, “were just sitting around in the restaurant, waiting and talking and cursing. I mean, it was terrible.” McPherson says she listened to Nagar “for a long time.”
“He told me directly that he was depressed to the point where he felt like…hurting others and then hurting himself,” McPherson remembers. “He said that he’s not going down alone.”
Nagar says McPherson is mistaken. He says he never mentioned anything about suicide nor threatened her, or anyone else, with violence. Not that Nagar is above threats; he says he promised to call U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on a few of McPherson’s employees, including Seiusarran. Of course, if immigration officials ever do show up, they may not find Seiusarran there. McPherson says she fired the employee last week in an attempt to keep David Nagar away.
So where is Seiusarran? When reached for comment, she was back at Taste of the Caribbean, apparently trying to get her job back. She would not say much on the record; she would not even confirm the spelling of her name. But she did have this to say: David Nagar’s charge against her, that she helped McPherson secure the former Teddy’s Roti Shop space, is “totally false.”
If anything, Seiusarran feels as blindsided by David Nagar as he does by her. His accusations have led her to cease communicating with him, ending what she has always considered a “very good relationship.” “It is sad,” Seiusarran says, “but I wish him all the best.”
Like Seiusarran, McPherson feels like an unwitting victim in this mess. If she ever felt like she had an inside track on a great space, she’s almost regretting it now. “If I had known about all this, I would have left that alone,” she says, “because....I have nothing to really do with” the Nagars’ move from Georgia Avenue.
But it’s too late for McPherson to back away from the deal she struck with the landlord. She has a three-year lease to honor, and she plans to open before Christmas with a menu featuring Jamaican, Trinidadian, and Guyanese dishes, including roti, the flatbread that made Teddy’s semi-famous. McPherson believes she has no choice but to move forward. “I can’t afford to pay three years and not get anything out of it,” she says.
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