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Landlords Plan to Make Statement In Max’s vs. Rocklands Lease Dispute

Last week, Rocklands had to call police when community tempers flared.

Max’s, in Glover Park, has lost its lease to neighbor Rocklands, which plans an expansion. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

UPDATE (May 21): Read about the landlords’ statement here.

In the scheme of things, barbecue and ice cream should be the best of friends, because they go so well together. But that’s not how it’s gone down on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park, where, at the beginning of May, Max’s Best Ice Cream lost its lease to its next door neighbor, Rocklands Barbecue. Max’s owner blamed Rocklands’ owner, and ever since there’s been community turmoil that heated up last week to a few angry incidents aimed at Rocklands—one a “projectile” thrown at the store and separate acts of “harassment” inside the store. Now the landlords plan to weigh in with a statement that, at best, could calm down the neighborhood.

“There will be a statement in the next 24 hours” from Barbara and Gail Bassin, according to their lawyer, Glenn Bonard. They had been out of town at a family wedding, he says. The Bassins are members of an old Washington family who also own MacArthur Liquors and once owned an eponymous restaurant at the corner of 14th and E—now the J. Willard Marriott hotel—where regulars included members of Congress and journalists from the next door National Press Building.

In May, after negotiations were not productive, the Bassins, through their lawyer and property manager, gave notice to ice cream store owner Max Keshani that they would not be renewing his lease after 20 years as a tenant. Instead they offered it to John Snedden, who owns Rocklands. Snedden accepted the offer, signed a lease, and announced plans to expand his 23-year-old store to twice its size. Keshani publicly blamed Snedden for his eviction, hinting that he had gone after it in bad faith, and a significant number of Glover Park residents sided with Keshani, forming a Facebook page, rallying behind him at an Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting, and organizing a pint-size protest of fifth graders. Snedden was dismayed by the public ire aimed at him and denied any inappropriate behavior in acquiring the lease. That didn’t satisfy some members of the community.

Last week, according to Snedden, he noticed that someone had thrown “oatmeal or an egg on our back window.” He also says a male customer entered the store and began to argue with the counter employees and that it “escalated to cursing and harassing.” When a similar incident happened with a woman who entered the store, Snedden reported it to the police. They have a video of the incident. There was also an angry phone call that came into the store. Through caller ID, Rocklands traced it to the neighborhood, says Snedden.

We also talked on Monday with Keshani. He says his lawyer, whom he identified as Lou Kolodner, was pursuing an extension of the lease. In a phone conversation we asked Bonard whether there had been any talks about an extension for the ice cream store. Bonard says no one has approached him. “We have not had any communications from Max that he was seeking an extension,” he says. “There has been no request for anything since he’s been told his lease is not being extended, which was the beginning of May.” Bonard says that, like Snedden, the Bassins have received “a lot of negative e-mail.”

We tried to reach Kolodner, but the number Keshani gave us did not work.

We asked Keshani whether he had reconsidered offers from other Glover Park landlords to move his store to their buildings. He wants to stay right where he is, he says. “This is me.” What did he hope the Bassin sisters’ statement would say? “I’m hoping for the best.”

Snedden is sympathetic and regrets that he didn’t approach Max earlier for a “face to face” conversation, but says he was under the impression Keshani was retiring and didn’t anticipate the harsh community blowback. He says, “I slapped myself in the head” that he didn’t “calmly talk to him.” Max, when asked whether he’d like to talk with Snedden, said, “He could have talked to me many times over. I love to make peace, but how do you make peace with someone who doesn’t make sense of peace?” Snedden says the Bassin statement will put the issue “back between the landlord and the tenant.”

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  • bobgoatcheeese

    The shame of this is that John Snedden is one of the most well respected businessmen in town; supportive of Glover Park, supportive of many charities all over town, supportive of the local restaurant association, and an independent business person in a VERY difficult industry for many years. Ice Cream is hard to make money at but making money with barbecue is harder. John has done it well and built a business over many many years. He is appreciated by his managers and employees and is a genuinely good person. He admits to "slapping himself in the head" over not taking the high road that was the landlord's to take, so now let's all realize that he is not the bad guy here. How sad that he is perceived that way after all he has done.

  • Stop blaming Rocklands

    Why is Max Keshani sitting there waiting for his former landlords to make a statement, or waiting for John Snedden to come talk to him (instead of him walking next door to talk to John Snedden)? Doesn't Max understand that -- as often happens to businesses when they no longer have a lease -- he has to take action, make a decision and move forward? All the goodwill in the world won't save his business if HE won't.

  • Sunny Shine

    I don't see why the landlord has some obligation to accept a lower price for his property just to keep this ice cream shop in business. Seems like the ice cream guy simply isn't willing to pay the market rate for his space. It's business.

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