District seizes shuttered Osteria Elisir for unpaid sales tax

February 18

Just days after chef and owner Enzo Fargione closed Osteria Elisir in January, citing inadequate revenues, the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue seized the downtown restaurant for nonpayment of taxes. Cucina Moderna LLC, the company that operated Elisir, owes more than $210,000 in sales taxes dating back to 2012, according to the city's lien (see below).

Chef Enzo Fargione plans to auction off the equipment at Osteria Elisir to pay off his tax debt. (Courtesy of Osteria Elisir)
Enzo Fargione plans to auction off the equipment at Osteria Elisir to pay off his tax debt. (Courtesy of Osteria Elisir)

Elisir debuted as a tasting-menu-only restaurant in December 2011. OTR spokesperson Natalie Wilson said Cucina Moderna did not file sales tax receipts for either 2012 or 2013; the amount owed by the company, $212,590.99, is based on sales projections, she added. The debt also includes penalties and interest.

"Seizing a business is our last resort," Wilson said. "We try to work with the entity to bring them into compliance."

D.C. tax authorities have been in contact with Cucina Moderna since 2012, Wilson said. But Fargione noted that if  OTR had contacted the company earlier, it was news to him. The chef said he was cleaning the restaurant after its late January closure when a District tax official walked in and flashed identification.

"I thought it was a joke," Fargione said. "We never received any formal notification."

The chef thinks it could have been a clerical mistake: The agency may have sent notifications to the wrong address, even though the tax lien lists the same location, 427 11th St. NW, as the one Osteria Elisir has on its Web site.

Regardless of past contacts, Fargione said he plans to make good on the tax debt. He and his partners, Fargione said, are already negotiating with the city to pay back the money, whether with a straight payment, an auction of equipment still inside the restaurant or a combination of both. Cucina Moderna, Fargione said, owns the equipment and supplies inside Elisir.

The chef hopes to handle the auction himself, with a company he has used before, to ensure a better price on the items at Elisir, including liquor, wine, computers, plates, kitchen equipment and surveillance cameras, among other things. Fargione figures he can get between $80,000 and $130,000 from auction alone. But he said it's the city's decision on who handles the auction.

If the chef wants to apply again for a permit or license in the city, like a liquor license or a certificate of occupancy, he "cannot owe more than $100 to the District government," according to the Clean Hands Law. Fargione doesn't expect that issue to be hanging over his head as he considers his future; he hopes to have the tax bill paid off within two or three weeks.

"I face my responsibilities," Fargione said. "I'm not going to hide or anything like that."

The chef also noted that he didn't close Elisir because of a seizure threat from the District. "We didn't close because they shut me down," he said. "We closed because the partners of the LLC ... didn't think it was working. It wasn't generating that much money."

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires he ingest more calories than a draft horse.
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