U.S. Marshals entered a Capitol Hill row house on Friday morning, May 22, with a court order to evict Good Stuff Eatery chef and owner Spike Mendelsohn and his business partner, Mike Colletti, for failure to pay more than $8,000 in rent and penalties. Upon arrival, though, marshals found neither man there. One of the burger men, in fact, didn’t even live there anymore.
Instead, marshals found another man and woman apparently living in the home on the 400 block of 15th Street SE, says Joel Truitt, property manager for owners Brian and Elizabeth Wetzler. “We don’t know who they were,” Truitt adds.
Marshals hauled the row house’s possessions to the curb, including a futon, a big-screen TV, and a table with eight chairs, the property manager says. The man found living there salvaged his own possessions, Truitt adds, but allowed the rest of the stuff to be looted by people in the neighborhood.
News of the eviction comes at a time of expansion—or talk of such—for the Mendelsohn family business, Sunnyside Group LLC. The company’s face and publicity magnet is, of course, Spike Mendelsohn, the fedora-topped toque who has successfully transformed himself from a Top Chef wannabe to celebrity chef here in the District, which is practically starved for someone famous under the age of, say, 50.
Sunnyside started off with a bang. Mendelsohn rolled out Good Stuff last year to great fanfare and recently started speaking publicly about his company’s takeover of Zack’s Taverna on the Hill and its plans to convert the joint into a pizzeria (Young & Hungry blog, “Spike’s New Pizzeria Is Coming to Cap Hill. But First: Souvlaki!” 5/12/2009). The chef has also been talking about expanding the Good Stuff brand outside the District (Young & Hungry blog, “Where Will Spike Mendelsohn Open His Next Good Stuff Eatery?” 5/18/2009).
Mendelsohn’s dealings with the Wetzlers, however, haven’t been as fruitful. The chef and his long-time bud, Colletti, signed a one-year lease on the Capitol Hill house in July 2008, according to the contract, which the City Paper reviewed. The tenants started off well, paying their rent, but by January, the Wetzlers were forced to turn to the courts when the pair owed $4,600 in back rent and late fees, Truitt says. Mendelsohn and Colletti were paying $2,200 a month in rent.
Neither tenant showed up for a court hearing on Feb. 25, according to D.C. Superior Court documents. A writ of restitution eviction notice was then issued on March 11. All along the way, Truitt says, Mendelsohn and Colletti were notified about the ongoing legal proceedings, by both the courts and the landlords. Letters were sent to the tenants, the family, and to Good Stuff Eatery, the property manager says. Truitt even called Spike Mendelsohn’s father, Harvey, to try to get some resolution. A couple of checks then arrived in March, Truitt says, totaling about $3,500.
But by May, the tenants owed $8,700 in rent, late fees, and attorneys’ fees, Truitt says. This was money the Wetzlers needed to cover their own mortgage, says Elizabeth Wetzler, who called from Bogotá, Colombia, where she and her husband are stationed. Brian Wetzler is a commander in the U.S. Coast Guard, and they’re expecting their first child.
The turn-of-the-century row house on Capitol Hill is the couple’s only rental property. It’s a two-bedroom, two-bath home with new hardwood floors, a remodeled kitchen, and central air. “It’s a cute little house,” Wetzler says.
Wetzler says she and her husband have been more than accommodating with their tenants, repeatedly trying to contact Mendelsohn and Colletti to get them to live up to the terms of the lease. The couple even extended the date of the eviction when the weather proved lousy in late April, she says. They didn’t want to “do the eviction if we were going to put someone out in the rain and snow.”
Micheline Mendelsohn, Spike’s sister and spokesperson for Good Stuff Eatery, called to explain her brother’s side of the story. She says that Spike had signed another lease in July—right around the time he signed his contract with the Wetzlers—to live with his girlfriend at a different Capitol Hill address. Micheline Mendelsohn says that her brother transferred his share of the 15th Street lease to Good Stuff Eatery cook Brian Lacayo, who lived in the house with Colletti.
It was Lacayo who was on the premises when the Marshals arrived on May 22, the spokesperson says. She doesn’t know who the unidentified woman was. But whoever was living at the 15th Street residence, Micheline Mendelsohn notes, her brother had no idea that the Wetzlers had started eviction proceedings against him, despite the many notices that came his way.
Micheline Mendelsohn says she couldn’t explain why Colletti or Lacayo didn’t pay the rent. “The guys get a salary,” she says. None of the Good Stuff guys had a comment for the record on May 22, though the spokesperson indicated over the Memorial Day weekend that all three might be willing to talk to clear their names. But then Micheline Mendelsohn cut off communications with Washington City Paper shortly after she called the headline on the original blog item (“Spike Mendelsohn Evicted from His Capitol Hill Rental House,” 5/22/2009) “slanted/slanderous.” (She had earlier in the weekend requested a change to the headline, which Editor Erik Wemple denied.)
Spike Mendelsohn’s sublease was news to Elizabeth Wetzler when Y&H contacted her for a follow-up interview. “We never, ever heard of that, and certainly he never asked permission to do so,” the owner says. Mendelsohn’s lease with the Wetzlers prohibits tenants from subletting “the said premises or [assigning] this lease in whole or in part without the consent in writing of said lessor.”
What’s more, Wetzler adds, Spike Mendelsohn’s name was still on all the legal documents coming from the courts. “Why didn’t he just pick up the phone and say, ‘Please don’t drag my name through this,’” Wetzler said, since he’s claiming to no longer be party to the lease.
Wetzler notes that her husband had spoken with Truitt, their property manager, who had no knowledge of the sublease either. The only people legally responsible for the rent, she adds, were Spike Mendelsohn and Mike Colletti. By Tuesday afternoon, as Washington City Paper was nearing its printing deadline, neither tenant had yet approached the Wetzlers about repaying their debt, the owner says.
“We were looking forward to eating some of his hamburgers when we got back to D.C.,” Elizabeth Wetzler says. “But I don’t think we’re going to go to his business now.”
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