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California Clipper Landlord Fires Back at Brendan Sodikoff With Back Rent Lawsuits

The Au Cheval owner faces two lawsuits over his former dive bar

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California Clipper [Official Photo]
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Time hasn’t smoothed any friction between Hogsalt founder Brendan Sodikoff and landlord Gino Battaglia. Battaglia has filed two lawsuits demanding more than $93,000 in back rent and damages from Sodikoff. Battaglia was Sodikoff’s landlord and owns the property that housed the California Clipper, the Humboldt Park dive bar that closed in May.

Battaglia and wife Bernadette’s first lawsuit demands Sodikoff to pay $18,000 in back rent from the Clipper space, 1002 N. California Avenue (coffeeshop C.C. Ferns also shared the space). They also seeks $46,000 in damages. Battaglia and Sodikoff also had an agreement involving a property at 958 N. California Avenue. That’s a space Sodikoff once ticketed for a restaurant. Hogsalt instead used the space as a workshop. In a separate lawsuit, the Battaglias ask for about $24,000 in back rent from the other space, as well as $5,250 in damages. Both lawsuits were filed July 21. Block Club Chicago first reported the story on the lawsuits.

Sodikoff is the founder of Hogsalt, the company that runs restaurants like Au Cheval, Green Street Meats, and Bavette’s Steakhouse & Bar. Battaglia is a well-known landlord with properties across Chicago. The two disagree on why the Clipper closed. Sodikoff said Battaglia didn’t understand the difficult economic environment for restaurants during the pandemic, and that the landlord refused to negotiate with him. He needed fiscal relief while bars and restaurant dining rooms remained closed. Battaglia blamed Sodikoff, saying he wanted to break his lease, skip out on rent, and close the bar. Battaglia adds he was willing to work out a deal, but Sodikoff refused to provide financial records which would have helped the parties reach a compromise.

Battaglia has kept on eye on the release of figures from the federal government that show how much money businesses received from the Payroll Protection Plan (PPP). The program provided forgivable loans to small businesses which can be used to pay employee wages, rent, and other business-related expenses. Hogsalt — which runs Gilt Bar, Ciccio Mio, and Aster Hall — received $5 million to $10 million in loans, according to federal records.

“Now I know the reason why he didn’t share the information,” Battaglia says.

Sodikoff wasn’t reached for comment Thursday. Last week, he defended his actions, saying the PPP money was divided among workers at several restaurants. The numbers from the federal government show the amount was used to save 500 jobs. Running a restaurant company is more complicated than the general public may realize, Sodikoff says.

“I’m not a corporation,” he says. “I don’t get to take losses from unit A and apply them to unit B.”

Back in June, Battaglia said he had been very transparent with Sodikoff. Battaglia, before he got into real estate, worked in bars. He also owns Blue Chicago. He’s sympathetic to other restaurant and bar owners.

Battaglia also says he worked out deals with tenants at other properties. That’s confirmed by Michael Simmons, the owner and chef at Cafe Marie-Jeanne, which is across the street from the Clipper. Simmons says Battaglia even spoke to chefs back in March when they gathered to listen to Gov. J.B. Pritzker announce he was closing bars and restaurants to curb the spread of COVID-19. The meeting, which took place at Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar (another of Battaglia’s properties), gathered chefs like Paul Kahan, Rick Bayless, and Stephanie Izard. Battaglia advised chefs to work out deals with landlords and to keep channels of communication open. Mark Sparacino, owner of Prosecco — a River North Italian restaurant — also praised working with Battaglia, saying he provided relief on their rent.

“Don’t prejudge landlords,” Battaglia says. “OK, listen, I was broke until I was 40 years old. I worked at bars, 80 hours a week. Like I said before, I want to treat people honestly. I’m not such a greedy landlord, I give back and I work with my tenants.”

In June, Battaglia said he was considering a lawsuit. He donates money from tenants to charities. On Thursday, he issued Sodikoff a challenge. Battaglia says he would drop the lawsuits if Sodikoff wrote a check in the amount of back rent he owes to Battaglia and donates the money to charity, Battaglia is partial to Inspiration Kitchens and Lakeview Pantry.

Battaglia also owns the property at 1732 N. Milwaukee Avenue, the site of another of Sodikoff’s restaurants, Small Cheval. Sodikoff continues to pay rent there, as that restaurant has robust to-go and delivery sales. A quick-serve burger restaurant is profitable during a pandemic, but a dive bar like the California Clipper is not, Sodikoff says. Before last week’s shut down of indoor bar service in Chicago, there were scenes across the city of crowded taverns. Sodikoff says don’t be fooled.

“It may look good — you have a lot of people out there, it looks full,” he says. “But if you can’t do it everyday, consistently, you’re 100 percent going to lose.”

Sodikoff also adds was forced to close, and that Battaglia sent him an eviction notice. Battaglia denies that he did.

California Clipper

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