Bar 145 battles for ownership of lease for their Kent franchise in Portage courts

With the doors locked and windows turned dark, only silence fills the empty remains of what used to be Bar 145, a lively gastropub located in the heart of downtown Kent.

Formerly boasting a build-your-own-burger bar, bourbon and live music nearly every night, the restaurant suddenly closed its doors this August after being open since 2012.

Now, its vacancy stands in stark contrast to the other businesses in the surrounding area including doughnut connoisseurs Peace, Love & Little Donuts and student-favorite Twisted Meltz.

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The interior of Bar 145 remains largely untouched thanks to a court order. Passersby are greeted by a view of stacked chairs through the windows currently. Photo courtesy of Kyleigh Jarosinski.

With roots in Put-in-Bay, Ohio, Bar 145 was founded by Jeremy Fitzgerald and his partner George Simon. The duo opened their first restaurant in Toledo, Ohio in 2011. Shortly after, they began looking into expanding the restaurant into a series of franchises across northern Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Their franchise in Kent was one of the first to launch in 2012. It is now one of several to have closed including locations in Rochester, New York; Fort Wayne, Indiana; and Norwalk and Avon, Ohio.

In August of this year, Fitzgerald told the Record-Courier their franchisee, JHG Inc., shut the restaurant’s doors due to a breach of contract with their landlord, College Town Kent. Since then, Fitzgerald and his legal team have been engaged in a legal battle to retain ownership of the lease.

According to the court documents, in June 2012, College Town Kent entered a lease for a storefront on Kent’s East Erie Street with Fitzgerald and Simon’s company Fitz Simon LLC.

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Bar 145 files a suit against College Town Kent for the right to the property. Image courtesy of Portage County Courts

The lease changed hands in May 2013 when JHG, a Northfield, Ohio-based company owned by Jedfrey Green and his son Joshua, took over the franchise. Although they assumed ownership of the location, a clause was added to the lease with College Town Kent stipulating corporate could reassume the property if they voided their franchise agreement with JHG.

After several liens were placed on the property for failure to pay bills to various collectors between 2014 and 2015, JHG was taken to Portage County’s Municipal Court for other debts in 2016. Although they settled the case outside of court later that year, they faced additional debt issues with College Town Kent in March of this year.

Despite efforts to contact the Greens, the phone number listed for their business online was no longer connected.

In October 2017, corporate filed a lawsuit against College Town Kent, refusing to relinquish the lease to them and claiming College Town Kent caused them a minimum of $25,000 in damages.

“We are eager to reopen the Kent location under original management to serve the Kent community with high-quality food and entertainment,” Fitzgerald said in an email statement. “Bar 145 enjoyed a great relationship with the Kent community and positive reviews for its food and environment.”

Fitzgerald went on to add, “We have the right to reopen the Bar 145, and unfortunately, we are forced to use the courts to protect that right.”

Currently a hearing is scheduled for December 27 in the Portage County Small Claims Court, but Bar 145’s legal team must appear in court December 19 to deny violating a preliminary injunction forbidding them from making any cosmetic or structural modifications to the property while the case was in the legal system.

Representatives at College Town Kent and their legal team at Kohrman, Jackson & Krantz failed to respond after several attempts to contact them.

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Dave Ruller, Kent’s City Manager. Photo courtesy of KentOhio.org

Dave Ruller, Kent’s City Manager, said he hopes the litigation is resolved soon because it is a “prime location [that] can be active again.”

“It’s a great location, and I think an experienced business owner could do very well with the right business concept,” Ruller said. “Bar 145 did great business in its first few years of operation, and I have no doubt that the market would support a good, a quality replacement.”

In the August Record-Courier article, Ruller said College Town Kent already had a tenant interested in the property, and he hoped the transition would “occur quickly and smoothly for everyone.”

Although Ruller said closures don’t negatively impact downtown business’ performances overall and “failure rate of small businesses in the retail and restaurant industry is very high, so turnover is a part of the business reality,” the business shutting down still impacted those working there.

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Maddy Melin, a former employee of Kent’s Bar 145

Maddy Melin, a Kent State student and hostess Bar 145, hired at the beginning of the 2016 school year, was  surprised by the bar closing and disappointed at having lost her job.

On the busy days, the bar bustled with commotion as workers busied from task to task—a chaotic but comfortable atmosphere to work in Melin said.

Picking up the slack outside her usual hosting duties, Melin said she was “just happy to have a job.”

With Bar 145’s legal case continuing, it left her to find another job in an already saturated market of college students looking for work.

“The only thing I was upset about was that I needed a job,” Melin said. “The whole sole reason I stayed in Kent over the summer [being originally from Chicago] was…to have a job for the rest of college.”

Now that the new year is fast approaching with litigation still pending, filling the space with a new tenant seems unlikely. However, Ruller said downtown’s economy isn’t impacted by the “ups and downs” of the local businesses.

“A better indicator of the local economy is whether another business is anxious to move in after a business closes,” Ruller said. “Landlords tell us that they have a steady stream of new businesses to choose from—so that’s encouraging.”

 

Bar 145 in court over property lease from Kyleigh Jarosinski on Vimeo.

 

Group Roles:

Meghan— Contacted Maddy Melin, interviewed Maddy Melin, assisted with research/fact checking, sourced headshots, assisted with editing.

Kyleigh—Assisted with Maddy Melin interview, reached out to Dave Ruller, assisted with editing story, created visual component, took featured photo.

Christina—Wrote the story, assisted with fact checking, edited the story.

Mike—Conducted outreach for Bar 145, College Town Kent, JHG and their legal teams, researched court case in court docs, wrote and created timeline, assisted with writing and editing article, formatted post in WordPress.