For 21 years, Tuscany Grill has anchored the Park Place at Suntree plaza on Wickham Road. Two decades of serving Italian — and sometimes German — specialties comes to an end Oct. 22, according to News 6 partners Florida Today.
“Our landlord has decided not to renew our lease at the end of October,” owner Gina Pierce said in a letter sent to customers and posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page late Tuesday.
The final blow came “after surviving a Carrabba’s in my parking lot, the Adkin’s diet that labeled pasta as poison, and now a full-blown global pandemic,” Pierce said in the letter.
Pierce said she is stunned. “I don’t know why,” she said. “I cannot think of anything I have done.”
Brevard County property records list the owner of the plaza as Park Place Suntree LLC. The property is managed by JM Real Estate. Multiple requests for comment received no response.
Pierce initially faced eviction in December after falling behind on her rent during pandemic shutdowns, but Pierce said she has since paid all back rent, late and legal fees. Her lease renews every five years, but there is a clause saying renewal can be canceled if she falls behind on payments.
“On Sept. 2, I got a letter saying the lease would not be renewed,” she said. “The reason given was it was the owner’s decision.”
Pierce said she emailed the property management company that oversees the plaza in March last year saying she was concerned about how impending COVID-19 shutdowns would affect her restaurant and asking if there were options should she have trouble paying rent, which runs more than $8,300 a month.
“Zero concessions were made, and there was no communication,” she said.
When restaurants closed to indoor dining and her business stalled, Pierce met with her attorney and her bookkeeper and came up with a plan to pay as much of her monthly rent as possible after paying utilities, food costs and employee salaries.
Pierce received more than $100,000 in federal Paycheck Protection Program money, most of which went to pay her 19 employees. She worked with her financial advisors to follow government restrictions on what percentage of that money could go toward rent, she said.
“I emailed and told them that was my intention,” Pierce said. “No response.”
Pierce said she paid at least half of her rent each month, but she fell behind almost $40,000 by October 2020.
On Dec. 23, she was served with an eviction notice.
According to court documents filed Dec. 12, Pierce owed Park Place at Suntree $39,407.14 as of Dec. 8, 2020.
“Defendant was served with a Three Day Notice demanding the rent due or possession of the premises on December 8, 2020,” the court document states. “Defendant refuses to do either.”
Pierce said in January through May, she paid her full rent, although none of her checks were cashed until May. That month, she said she also paid all the back rent and associated fees. A voluntary dismissal of the complaint was filed in Circuit Court by attorneys for Park Place on July 15.
Then came the September letter telling Pierce her lease would not be renewed. She must be out of the space by Oct. 31.
After a rocky 2020, Pierce said her business, which includes two private dining spaces in addition to the main dining room, had turned around and was profitable. She has wedding receptions and holiday parties booked in the coming weeks and through the end of the year. She said she attempted to extend her lease, at least until Dec. 31, so she can follow through with events that have been planned. All requests have been denied, she said.
Pierce said she currently is looking at options for another location. She hopes to stay in the Suntree area, and also hopes to be able to reopen quickly.
“We have options,” she said, “but I don’t want to move. I want to stay right here where my customers have been for 21 years.”
Pierce said she was a single mother with five children when she opened Tuscany Grill in October 2000. The plaza was new, and the unit still had dirt floors. She built it out and turned it into exactly the space she wanted.
Some of her current 19 employees have worked at Tuscany more than 15 years.
“They have stuck with me through uncertain times, and I’m determined to find some place where we can continue to stick together,” she said.
All of her children, and now two of her grandchildren, have worked there. Tuscany Grill put her children through college and graduate school.
“The next five years were going to fund my retirement,” she said.
Pierce said she wants to keep the business going for her customers as much as for herself.
“My very first customer, who walked through the door on the first day, is still my customer,” she said.
Tuscany Grill has been the site of receptions for weddings and funerals. People have celebrated graduations and birthdays.
“When you know you’re part of somebody’s memory, and you made it awesome for them, it’s just the best feeling,” she said.
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