Six months after opening a high-profile location in Circle Centre, Bella Vita restaurant is being sued by the landlord over $96,523.23 in unpaid rent.
In a civil lawsuit filed Monday, June 7, in Marion County Court, plaintiff Circle Centre Mall LLC says defendant Bella Vita LLC has been in default on its lease since April 19. Najem Enterprises Inc. is also named as a defendant.
Bella Vita owner Henri Najem—who has ties to embattled local businessman Tim Durham—has operated a Bella Vita restaurant in the Indianapolis area since 1998 along with his wife, Shelley, including the past five years at Geist Marina. The owners in January opened a second Bella Vita in high-traffic space on the first floor of Circle Centre that had been empty since long-time tenant Bertolini’s closed in March 2008.
Najem did not respond to IBJ’s call requesting comment. Neither did Richard M. Giesel, an attorney with locally-based Gaston, Cavanaugh and Giesel, which represents Circle Centre.
According to court documents, Bella Vita on Nov. 11 executed a lease agreement for 6,490 square feet of space in Circle Centre, agreeing to pay $200,000 in the first year in equal installments due the first day of each month. In the second year of Bella Vita’s lease, rent is slated to increase to $206,000, with another increase to $212,180 scheduled for the third year. Bella Vita also agreed to an annual central plant charge of $14,927. The lease includes a personal guarantee by Henri Najem.
On April 19, according to court documents, Circle Centre declared the lease officially in default, notified Bella Vita, and demanded the lease’s terms be met by May 2. Bella Vita “failed and refused” to cure its default by that deadline, according to the lawsuit, which notes Circle Centre is now entitled to immediate repossession of the space.
The restaurant was still open as of Thursday.
In December, Najem told IBJ he’d sought an opportunity to open a restaurant downtown for two years. “All the development and the expansion of the [Indiana] Convention Center really drew me here,” he said then.
Durham is not involved in the downtown Bella Vita, but he has partnered with Najem on previous attempts to expand the restaurant.