Food

Another Landlord Is Suing Mike Isabella

The Hotel at the University of Maryland claims Kapnos Taverna owes more than $63,000 in unpaid rent.
Mike Isabella (center) and Kapnos chef/partner George Pagonis (right). Photograph by Rey Lopez.

At least three landlords are now suing Mike Isabella’s restaurants for unpaid rent. In addition to now-closed Graffiato in Chinatown and Requin Brasserie in the Mosaic District, Kapnos Taverna in College Park is also entangled in a lawsuit for breach of contract.

The Hotel at the University of Maryland, which is operated by Southern Management Corporation, claims Isabella owes $63,566.92 from January through April. The complaint was filed in Prince George’s County Circuit Court on May 15—before the other two eviction lawsuits—but has not been previously reported. Isabella, though, was not served with his court summons until July 31, according to an affidavit. The landlord’s lawyer emailed Isabella’s lawyer, Brian Bregman, in early July to say that they’d made “approximately 20 separate attempts” to serve the restaurateur at his various restaurants and home. Bregman responded that he was unaware of all the attempts and complained that he wasn’t given a courtesy notice that the suit had been filed. “I have not been treated respectfully nor professionally in this case. I am extremely disappointed,” he wrote. 

Despite the lawsuit, Isabella says Kapnos Taverna is not closing. “Did we plan on having a slow summer? Yeah. But I’m not shutting down. We’re in the busy season now,” Isabella says. “We’re in negotiations. I hope everything is going to be fine. You know what makes everyone smile a little more? Seeing revenue. When you give people money they won’t bother you. Hopefully come Monday, we’ll have a good week.”

The landlord’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

Isabella opened Kapnos Taverna, along with chef/partner George Pagonis, in September 2017.  He agreed to a five-year lease, according to court documents. The restaurant was the fourth Greek spot in Isabella’s portfolio and the second island-inspired Kapnos Taverna.

Today, Isabella ceased operations at Tysons Galleria food hall, Isabella Eatery. In recent months, he has closed three other restaurants: Requin Brasserie in the Mosaic District and Graffiato locations in DC and Richmond. As the Washington Business Journal first reported, a subsidiary of developer Edens sued Isabella’s company on May 22 for more than $715,000 in unpaid rent and penalties for Requin Brasserie, dating back to 2015. Meanwhile, Douglas Development sued Graffiato in Chinatown on June 29. The landlord says the shuttered restaurant owes nearly $55,000 in rent and fees from June and July.

It all comes on the heels of a high-profile lawsuit from former employee Chloe Caras, who accused Isabella and his business partners of allegedly creating a toxic “bro culture” rife with sexual harassment. Isabella denied creating a hostile work environment. The case settled in May under undisclosed financial terms.

“We all know it hurts the business. It’s not a secret,” Isabella told Washingtonian in a July interview. “It’s hurt the business at all of my restaurants, some less than others.”

Additional reporting by Anna Spiegel.

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Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.