The Real Deal New York

Jekyll & Hyde owner served scary $2M lawsuit

Africa Israel USA seeks back rent and other costs from owner of bankrupt theme restaurant
By Adam Pincus | July 31, 2014 12:06PM

Times Square landlord Africa Israel USA spooked the founder of the bankrupt mystery-themed restaurant Jekyll & Hyde Club with a demand for $2.2 million this week.
Africa Israel USA, the landlord of the former New York Times headquarters at 229 West 43rd Street, is seeking the money from restaurant owner Donald Finley. The firm claims Finley owes the money as part of a so-called “good guy” guaranty that he made when he inked a lease in 2011, a lawsuit filed this week in Manhattan State Supreme Court reveals.

The restaurant, with an address of 216 West 44th Street and located on the block between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, had financial problems from early on, falling behind in rent and having contractors file more than $400,000 in mechanic’s liens, court records show. Ultimately, Africa Israel USA, led by CEO Chagit Sofiev-Leviev, filed a petition in Civil Court in Manhattan to remove Finley’s special purpose company, Adventure Entertainment, which operates the restaurant, and obtain payment of back rent.

But on July 16 just before midnight — only hours before the trial was set to begin — Finley’s Adventure Entertainment filed for Chapter 11 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan, court records show. (That was the second retail tenant in the building to file for bankruptcy. The discount department store Daffy’s filed in July 2012.)

Africa Israel then filed the lawsuit seeking the personal guaranty payment. That payment is explicitly allowed, according to terms of the lease filed with the suit, said Stephen Meister, partner with Meister Seelig & Fein, who is representing Africa Israel in the lawsuit.

Finley operates a mini-empire of theme restaurants under the name Jekyll & Hyde Entertainment Group, including the Jekyll & Hyde of Greenwich Village at 91 Seventh Avenue, the Slaughtered Lamb Pub at 182 West 4th Street in the West Village and the Shipwreck Tavern in Bayville, L.I.

The Jekyll & Hyde in Times Square was previously located at 1409 Sixth Avenue, between 57th and 58th street before it announced in 2011 its relocation to Times Square.

That year, Jekyll & Hyde inked a deal for 2,376 square feet on the ground floor, and 21,076 square feet on the second floor, for a total of 23,452 square feet. The firm began paying rent on the 20-year lease on July 15, 2012, starting at $1.3 million per year.

But by August 2013, the restaurant owed $1.1 million in unpaid rent.

A call to Adventure Entertainment and Finley were not returned.