The dearth of big-name retailers in affluent Howard County has long bothered trend-conscious residents. No Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. No Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel.
So when the Cheesecake Factory -- known for its oversize servings, oversize menus and, at many locations, oversize lines for tables -- announced plans to open its doors this year at the Mall in Columbia, there were smiles all over the county.
Well, not quite. The Champps Restaurant & Bar chain sued last month in Howard County Circuit Court, accusing the mall's landlord of breaching its contract when it agreed to build the 10,500-square-foot Cheesecake Factory just across a parking lot from Champps.
Champps alleged that the construction eliminated about 200 parking spaces adjacent to its sports-theme restaurant, blocked an access road leading to its door and impeded visibility of the restaurant from the mall's common area. Champps said the construction noise and dust also forced it to close its outdoor patio, the only place it had for smoking customers.
By causing "unreasonable interference with Champps use of the premises," the mall's landlord violated the terms of a 10-year lease it signed with the restaurant about three years ago, the lawsuit said.
The chain alleges that once construction started, sales at its Mall in Columbia restaurant dropped as much as 16 percent daily, forcing Champps to cut back employee hours. It said it expects sales to drop 10 to 25 percent if the Cheesecake Factory opens as scheduled in November.
"Champps will disappear behind the Cheesecake Factory," the lawsuit said. "The very existence of Champps is at stake."
General Growth Properties Inc., the mall's operator, declined to discuss the lawsuit.
Lawyers for Champps did not return calls seeking further comment. So it's unclear why Champps filed for a temporary restraining order to halt construction, then withdrew it. The order would have stopped construction until the landlord offered valet parking for Champps customers and met other demands.
In the lawsuit, Champps asks for reimbursement of legal fees and other costs as well as an order forcing the landlord to abide by the lease.
-- Dina ElBoghdady