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April 2, 2024

Celebrated Hartford restaurant entrepreneur Gina Luari contends with several eviction proceedings

PHOTOS | STEVE LASCHEVER Gina Luari is the CEO and founder of The Statement Group restaurant company.

After two years of brisk expansion for her budding restaurant empire, Hartford entrepreneur Gjinovefa “Gina” Luari — founder of The Place 2 Be restaurants — is contending with eviction proceedings for three locations.

Court records show at least one of those quarrels could be heading for a positive resolution. Luari said another should be resolved shortly.

Luari’s recent legal issues began in January with a lawsuit from the management of 5 Constitution Plaza in downtown Hartford — which hosts a Place 2 Be restaurant — claiming Luari owed $43,462 in back rent as of Nov. 1. In late March, the landlord filed a new complaint in New Haven Superior Court, asking a judge to enforce the landlord’s demand that Luari’s business vacate the 5,429-square-foot space as of Feb. 27.

Luari said she has withheld rent, insisting her landlord — 5CP Master Tenant LLC — first resolve ongoing flooding issues that have repeatedly damaged her business and forced short-term closures. 

Christopher Reilly, president of Lexington Property Management LLC, which is managing 5 Constitution Plaza, has said that Luari had failed to produce documentation accounting for flood-related damages, despite repeated requests. That makes it impossible to file an insurance claim, he said.

Now, Luari-owned eateries in New Haven and West Hartford are also involved in eviction proceedings.

New Haven

The landlord of Luari’s 4,200-square-foot Place 2 Be location at 338 Elm St., in New Haven, filed a lawsuit in New Haven Superior Court seeking to evict the business, claiming nonpayment of rent.

Judge Walter Spader sided with the landlord but stayed an eviction to allow a compromise to proceed. The Place 2 Be New Haven has agreed to pay its landlord — Old Engine House No. 3 Co. LLC – $8,641.93, and to stay current on future rent. The business will return to the status of “tenant in good standing” if it stays current on rent through Aug. 1, court records show.

Luari said she and her New Haven landlord had a disagreement over which party is responsible for property improvements, including a tree that was removed. The landlord counted the disputed costs as rent, Luari said. She also said her lease payments started at $12,500 to cover rent missed due to a delayed opening, but the landlord did not properly reduce monthly demands to $9,000, once that delay had been covered.

Those disagreements tallied up to a roughly $19,000 demand, which was cut by more than half to the amount in the compromise filed in court, Luari said.

West Hartford

In February, the owners of West Hartford’s Blue Back Square retail district filed a complaint in Hartford Superior Court claiming Luari had missed November’s rent for a 3,000-square-foot, ground-floor lease at 69 Memorial Road. The landlord followed up with a Jan. 8 notice to terminate the lease, and then a notice to leave no later than Feb. 2, according to the complaint.

Luari had been expected to open a bakery and coffee shop called The Bakery by P2B last October, but faced delays.

Luari said she had an agreement with Blue Back to pay half-rent on the space until the restaurant opened. However, the landlord sent a demand letter for $25,000 after Luari’s dispute with the management of 5 Constitution Plaza in Hartford hit the news, she said. 

Luari said she has paid the demanded amount, and has paid full $12,500 monthly rent ever since.

Luari said she has reached an agreement with Blue Back to adjust her lease to reflect a June 15 opening date. She expects that agreement to be entered into the court record and the dispute resolved later this month.

Launched in Hartford, Luari’s Place 2 Be restaurants are known for their hip, fun and social-media friendly atmosphere. She has since branched out to other states and launched additional restaurant concepts. She has opened five Place 2 Be restaurants since 2016, including one at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Last year, Luari launched a raw seafood restaurant in Hartford.

Luari has six more restaurants in various stages of development, including new Place 2 Be restaurants in Dallas and Las Vegas.

In a statement issued to the Hartford Business Journal, the Statement Group, which is the parent company of Luari’s restaurant businesses, said the company’s business model is strong and bolstered by some of the most loyal customers in the industry.

“That said, like many small businesses and restaurant owners in Greater Hartford and beyond, The Statement Group has had to juggle its fair share of landlord issues,” reads a portion of the statement. “In some cases, they are easily resolvable, and we can continue to serve our insta-worthy fare with flair. But in other cases, legal action is required.” 

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