News & Politics

Revisiting the Max’s Best Ice Cream vs. Rocklands Barbeque Lease Dispute

How two small Glover Park businesses stirred big community emotions.

The Max’s Best and Rocklands Barbeque properties in Glover Park. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

The weekend brought an interesting turn of events in Glover Park, where for the past
two months the community has been disrupted by, and disruptive over, a landlord’s
decision to evict one longtime, beloved small business and give the lease to its next-door
neighbor, another beloved small business. At the eleventh hour, the eviction was postponed
until October 31. This should be greeted as good news. But the emotions ran high in
this dispute, and did not always show Glover Park in the most favorable light. The
challenge now will be to heal wounds and move on in harmony—but will that happen?

The initial lease decision, announced at the beginning of May, prompted two months
of vitriol and division in the community, with the defenders of the evicted business
Max Keshani of Max’s Best Ice Cream, blaming
John Snedden, owner of Rocklands Barbeque and the new lease holder. Keshani claimed Snedden orchestrated
losing his lease—“My life had to be destroyed for his business and benefit?”—even
though the landlords,
Barbara and Gail Bassin, said the eviction was solely their decision. The Bassins were sometimes the only
individuals publicly defending Snedden.

As the dispute intensified, including a heated neighborhood meeting, people who identified
themselves as members of the Glover Park community hurled insults at Snedden; some
even hurled projectiles at his store. The Bassin sisters, who tried to keep a low
profile in the dispute, were forced to issue a statement. They called the treatment
of Snedden “grossly unfair, misinformed, and unjustified.” They said they were “saddened
to hear that members of the community have taken it upon themselves to be critical
of and abusive to John over what is our decision to allow him to expand his business.”

Both Keshani and Snedden had been in their adjacent locations for 20 and 23 years,
respectively. Snedden has been candid about saying that off and on during those years
he let the Bassins know that if Max’s lease ever became available, he would like to
be informed. The ice cream shop space would enable him to double the size of Rocklands
and add more seating and a bakery. Keshani, meanwhile, balked at a rent increase when
his lease came up for renewal this year. In a phone conversation, Keshani told me
he did not at the time hire a lawyer and begin formal lease renewal negotiations.
Eventually, he said, he left a phone message with the property manager, Ruppert Real
Estate, saying he was interested in renewing. He thought that sealed it. It did not.
Without a formal reply to the lease they offered Keshani, the Bassins informed Keshani
his lease would not be extended. They began looking for another tenant, and Snedden
was waiting in the wings.

This scenario provides an important lesson in the modern-day tenant-landlord relationship.
No matter how small or “mom-and-pop” a business may be, lawyers should almost always
be involved. It prevents the kind of communication breakdown that happened between
Keshani and the Bassins, and it protects the tenant. There was also a breakdown in
communications between Keshani and Snedden, even though the business owners were neighbors
and equally popular in their close-knit community. There’s no indication they ever
talked over the many years both have been in their respective spaces. Snedden, for
his part, admitted he should have reached out to Keshani. He said, “I slapped myself
in the head” that he didn’t “calmly talk to him.” Keshani, in an earlier conversation
with us, 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?” Rather than
make peace, Keshani was highly emotional in his public complaints about Snedden, and
in his vow to stay put. “I’m not going to move until somebody comes and takes my body
out of here,” he said on May 6. We spoke with him a few times over the next several
weeks, and his tone never changed.

Eventually Keshani got a lawyer involved,
Lou Kolodner. For a while, at the end of May, Keshani was under the impression that Kolodner was
pursuing a lease extension. But at that same time, the Bassins’ lawyer,
Glenn Bonard, told
Washingtonian, “We have not had any communications from Max that he was seeking an extension. There
has been no request for anything since he’s been told his lease is not being extended.”

At the beginning of June, after the incident of someone throwing food at the Rocklands
store, after so-called “harassing” anonymous phone calls to Snedden, after “a lot
of negative e-mail” to the Bassin sisters, after the Bassins released their statement,
and after Keshani had said many times over that he would not move out, regardless,
cooler headers prevailed. Bonard issued a statement saying that Keshani and the Bassins
had begun “productive discussions,” and that until a decision was reached there would
be a media blackout. The negotiations, we’re told, were principally handled by Bonard
and Kolodner with input from Snedden. The media blackout lasted until this weekend’s
announcement that Max’s Best Ice Cream could stay put until October 31.

The pivotal part of this peaceful resolution was John Snedden agreeing to delay the
start of his lease until November 1, which also means delaying the start of his planned
expansion. Legally he could have occupied the ice cream store space on Monday, July
1. “I would like to have it today, but it’s not critical,” Snedden said on Monday.
“With the amount of emotion and feedback, the question was to be able to have Max
work through the summer.” He said no one in the community, at least those who criticized
him, has apologized for their vitriol. “I’ve had a number of people say, ‘You’re not
getting a fair shake.’ Don’t worry. This is more positive than negative.”

Snedden’s new target date for opening the double-wide Rocklands is December 1, which—serendipitously—is
the same day the store first opened in 1990.

We reached out to Max Keshani, whom we contacted at his home. We asked whether he
was happy with the agreement. “No comment,” he said. Did he have anything to say about
Snedden? “No comment.” We also contacted Kolodner. He said Keshani is “glad to be
there until the end of October. He’s looking forward to the last couple of months.
I am happy that it’s resolved.”

On the “Save Max’s Best Ice Cream” Facebook page,
which has nearly 870 “likes,” someone posted this optimistic comment:

“Good news everyone—Max’s lease is extended until October 31st! Although the best
outcome would have been for him to stay forever, letting him stay through the season
is fantastic. This is great evidence of what a community can do if we can work together.
We should all celebrate with some ice cream and barbecue. Let’s continue to see if
we can find a way to persuade Max to stay in our neighborhood, even if it means a
new location.”

To that end, all along Keshani has told us that landlords for other Glover Park locations
have offered him a new home.