That anti-Steve Croman parade isn’t the only headache the landlord is facing. Last week, the State Supreme Court ordered that he repay $57,075 to Gabrielle Hamilton, chef-owner of Prune, who had considered one of his properties for a new eatery.
According to her complaint, Hamilton spotted an empty building at 44 East 1st Avenue — on the same block as Prune — that she wanted to turn into a prepared food and takeout restaurant. In spring 2011, she contacted a real estate broker employed by Croman and the three began lease negotiations.
Hamilton soon found out the location was zoned residential, but the celeb chef and bestselling author wanted to reserve the space, in case it could be used as a restaurant.
According to the complaint, her attorney met with Croman’s broker in August of 2011 and gave him four copies of the executed lease and three checks (for $47,000, $9,500 and $75 for lease security, first month’s rent and a background check) to hold in escrow for a week, which would give Croman enough time to figure out “whether or not the premises could be used for the intended purposes, as defendants had repeatedly, verbally, assured plaintiffs, but whom had, also, refuse to include such assurance in the lease.”
The escrow letter, according to the complaint, explicitly said that the checks would be returned to Hamilton in the case that a restaurant couldn’t be located at the address. Less than a week later, Hamilton’s lawyers determined just that, and wrote a letter to Croman and the broker informing them that the deal was off and asking them to return the checks. Instead the checks were cashed, even after “numerous letters and emails” sent by Hamilton.
Now that the case has been settled in Hamilton’s favor, just one question remains: does the chef, who was a semifinalist for a James Beard Foundation Award this year, still have plans to open her first offshoot of Prune? She hasn’t yet responded to our request for comment (nor has Croman), but we’ll let you know what we find out.