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Cafe Roba Dolce closes suddenly after eviction

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Roba Dolce closed its doors Tuesday and its owners were notified that they were being evicted from their corner location on Thayer Street, a shocking development that left Nino DeMartino, the owner of the panini and gelato cafe, searching for answers.

“Unfortunately, we have a situation where we are subleasing, and the people who are subleasing are defaulting,” DeMartino said in a telephone interview yesterday. “It just happened today, suddenly, and it was unexpected.”

Students and passers-by appeared taken aback by the darkened storefront, with many people stopping to read the notice tacked onto the front entrance.

The eviction notice, filed on Monday in Rhode Island’s Sixth District Court, came a mere three weeks after the cafe was granted a limited liquor license by the Providence Board of Licenses.

DeMartino said he was not notified before being served with the eviction notice. He said he was hoping to negotiate “some kind of adjustment” in court allowing him to continue to operate his business while the legal aspects of the case are discussed, though he said the likelihood of a successful re-opening during the proceedings was unclear.

“It’s really bad what they did,” DeMartino said, “but it’s the law.”

“Hopefully, we can get resolved soon and continue to serve the community,” he said.

Murray Gereboff, the attorney representing the landlords, New York-based real-estate company Stonehenge Partners, Inc., in the legal proceedings, said the eviction was filed because the tenants “wouldn’t pay their rent,” owing $36,000, though he did not specify who was guilty in defaulting on payments. He said the district sheriff served the execution yesterday, but “there isn’t much more that I know.”

DeMartino’s lawyer declined to comment about the case.

Before he was served the eviction notice, DeMartino, who has owned Roba Dolce since November 2007, said business had been going “okay,” especially given the current economy.

“Everybody’s suffering a little bit,” he said. “Under my supervision, we made more money than ever.” But he said there had been a 20 to 30 percent decrease in business since 2007, a trend he said he had been hoping to combat with the recently granted liquor license.

“We finally got the license,” he said, “but now we can’t even operate.”

DeMartino said his goal had been to create a classic Italian cafe – not a full-scale restaurant – with the limited license, fostering a social atmosphere for students and local residents. But with his cafe doors currently locked, the windows boarded shut and the phone disconnected, DeMartino acknowledged his plans were uncertain.

“We’re trying very hard to accommodate people,” he said. “If you don’t have money, you can’t operate.”

DeMartino, who said his cafe caters primarily to Brown and RISD students, has been in the restaurant business for 16 years, he said.

His goal in life, he said, has been to support his family, especially his children, whom he said he wants to send to college. “I’m a family man, and I have children,” he said. “If this doesn’t go well, what am I going to do?”

Many Brown students were equally stunned.

“They had amazing paninis,” said Mike Tackeff ’12. “I always thought they were a little expensive, but it was a good place to take a date.”

Without the cafe, DeMartino said he is unsure if he will be able to support himself or his family.

“This is our livelihood,” he said, “and these people come in and shut our doors, and now we have nothing.”

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