The announcement came first on Facebook, where the news was short and startling: The General Store, chef Gillian Clark’s homey restaurant in Silver Spring, was closed. “The landlord has not paid his back taxes and the county is taking back the building,” the note read on the General Store’s page on the social network site.
The full story was more complicated than that. Yes, landlord Spiro Gioldasis owed the county back taxes of more than $5,000 for 2010 and another $6,400 to a certificate holder who had bought the landlord’s 2009 tax lien. But when contacted last week for comment, Gioldasis said there was a simple reason for his tax woes: Clark and General Store co-owner Robin Smith owed him back rent dating to April 2010.
Gioldasis said he couldn’t pay the taxes because those county fees, along with the mortgage and insurance, are tied into the monthly rent paid by Clark and Smith. “So I have to come up with the money myself, and I don’t have it,” he says.
As a fellow restaurateur — he owns Pacci’s Neapolitan Pizzeria and is general manager at Mrs. K’s Toll House, both in Silver Spring — Gioldasis said he carried Clark and Smith longer than many landlords would have. But in early March, he and his attorney, Darrel Longest, filed suit in Montgomery County District Court for back rent, late fees and attorney costs. They were seeking $160,125.
On Wednesday, Judge William Simmons ruled in the landlord’s favor. Clark and Smith are on the hook for the full amount. The General Store owners had until Tuesday, March 29, to come up with the money to remain operating, Gioldasis says, but they closed shop instead.
“I was surprised that they gave up and walked away from it,” Gioldasis says.
Clark said she can’t pay the landlord the money owed, then added via e-mail: “Everyone gets behind in their rent or asks the landlord to accept less for a while. That’s how we all survive in slow times and how we both coexist to make money. Spiro is a bully and uses the courts to get his way. He has never wanted to work with us throughout this ordeal.”
Clark says the General Store’s closing will not affect the other restaurants that she and Smith plan to open, including the Kitchen on K Street in NoMa.