Warren council snubs would-be restaurateur

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A former restaurant owner denied in her bid to start a new venture here has hired an attorney following a bizarre exchange with the Warren Town Council last Tuesday evening.

Fab Goldberg, who owned the Basically British Tea Room in the Cutler Mill before being evicted in June 2009, appeared before the council with partner Virginia Forbes in hopes of taking over the vacant Cheese Plate. The restaurant at the corner of State and Water streets has been closed for six weeks.

“We’re going to be taking over the Cheese Plate and serving lunches and also doing pastries,” Ms. Goldberg told the council. But less than two minutes after she and her partner approached to request the transfer of victualing and liquor licenses to their venture “Nosh,” the council voted unanimously to deny both applications. They did so without taking comment from the audience, or discussing the matter.

“It’s been motioned, it’s been seconded, it’s been decided,” Town Council president Chris Stanley said when Ms. Goldberg, obviously surprised, asked why. “On recommendation of the solicitor. Have a pleasant evening.”

Contentious past

Though he declined to get into specifics on the record, Mr. Stanley said in a telephone call later that the council declined to discuss the matter further “to spare the applicant some pain.” He was likely alluding to the experience of several of Ms. Goldberg’s former business associates, one of whom sat silently at Tuesday’s meeting and said he would have spoken if the public was asked for input.

AVTECH founder Michael Sigourney, who bought the Cutler Mill from Dave Wescott in late 2008 and inherited Ms. Goldberg as a tenant, did not mince words when contacted late last week. He said his experiences with Ms. Goldberg were so bad that he was forced to evict her in mid-2009 after taking her to court for payment of back rent and other costs. He said he lost some $53,000 to the Water Street resident and dealt with more stress than he needed in the process; Mr. Wescott said this week that Ms. Goldberg still owes him a $13,000 judgement.

“If the public was asked, I certainly would have said that I don’t think this is a positive move for the community,” Mr. Sigourney said. “Given the track record of one of the two partners, I wouldn’t have been in favor of” the council’s approval.

Healey aboard

Mr. Sigourney may yet get to speak his mind, if the Nosh partners have their way. The day after the council’s vote, Ms. Goldberg called Robert Healey, a Barrington attorney who founded the Cheese Plate more than five years ago. The attorney said Monday that the council’s treatment of his client was unlike anything he’s seen in all his years in the business.

“It doesn’t make for a good commercial for Warren, for economic development, that’s for sure,” he said. “Clearly there was no hearing. I just find it mind-boggling, actually.”

Mr. Healey said he is aware of some of Ms. Goldberg’s civil issues with private individuals and the Town of Warren. But he said those should have had no bearing on the transfer of victualing and liquor licenses

“What seems to be the rumor on the street is that there are civil issues,” he said. “The problems (the council) may have with her may not relate to the serving of food. It’s like you trying to block me from getting a driver’s license because I kicked your dog.”

Mr. Healey said he has a few options, including taking legal action against the town to compel Warren to give his clients a “fair” hearing.

“Worse comes to worst, put something on the record,” he said. “It really doesn’t look like top notch playing. If the town wants to keep sticking its nose into things, it’s going to find itself on the wrong end of a lot of lawsuits.”

Reached Thursday, Mr. Stanley said he stands by the vote and believes the town is on solid legal ground. As for Ms. Goldberg?

“She’s got to get her house in order.”

Added councilor Joseph DePasquale after the vote: “I’m in favor of economic development, but not at the economic cost to others.”

Comments

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Jack Baillargeron

Kind of surprised at this. Would think any business owner has the right to be heard. Not only that, but who is the Council to decide if the public speaking option may cause grief? If there nor grief at all times when an opposing view is presented on anything?

I would say any Judge will make the Council have a public meeting on this. After all it is the Citizens right to be heard not just the business owners. You (The Council), have done more harm to public trust in the handling of this with your rush to judgment and denying citizens the right to be for or against this and be heard.

Sad road to see this go down for no reason other than it's appearance of a decision made before it was even presented. That is not how it works under our Federal or State Constitution.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 | Report this
ginni-allen2

What is surprising to me is the back door politics that appear to have gone into the making of this "decision." I agree with you, Mr. Baillargeron, that the Council has a lawful responsibility under our Constitution, to allow citizens to be heard in the public forum of a town council meeting. I watched the so called open meeting. These potential business owners were blindsided by the Council. And to dismiss them in such an inappropriate way, with no explanation? To me, this smacks of dirty dealings and greasy palms. It appears that the good ole boys network is alive and thriving in the Town of Warren. I most certainly won't bring my business into such a corrupt town.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 | Report this
harold

WOW.... AS SOMEONE WHO HAD THE PLEASURE OF WORKING FOR MS. FAB GOLDBERG FOR A FEW YEARS I CANNOT BEGIN TO STATE HOW STUNNED I TRULY AM. TO SAY THAT SHE TOOK THE BEST CARE OF HER STAFF IS A COMPLETE UNDERSTATEMENT... LET ME BEGIN WITH THE FACT THAT I WAS FED ON JUST ABOUT EVERY WORK SHIFT, FOOD WAS DELIVERED TO MY HOME WHEN I WAS TOO SICK TO ATTEND WORK, AND FOR EACH TABLE THAT I WAITED ON IT WAS FAB WHO MADE SURE THAT I EARNED A MINIMUM OF A 20% TIP ON TOP OF A MUCH HIGHER BASE WAGE THAN ANY OTHER WAITRESSING POSITION. SHE WAS MORE THAN LOVED BY HER CUSTOMERS AND BROUGHT BUSINESS TO TOWN FROM ALL OVER... JUST ABOUT EVERY TIME THAT I STEP FOOT INTO ANY STORE I AM ASKED "WHEN IS FAB STARTING UP AGAIN?.... THERE IS NO WHERE THAT HAS THE CHARM AND ATMOSPHERE, NOT TO MENTION THE GREAT FOOD THAT BASICALLY BRITISH PROVIDED. IT'S BEYOND CLEAR THAT NOT ONLY HAS THE LAW NOT BEEN FOLLOWED BY THE TOWN COUNSEL, BUT NOW TO FOLLOW WITH DESTRUCTION OF ONE'S CHARACTER......NOT ACCEPTABLE. FAB IS ONE OF A KIND AND THERE IS NO ONE WHOM I WOULD RATHER HAVE AS A BOSS.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 | Report this
drjacoby

Another "Power Grab"?

Since when is a business owner seeking a license denied a public hearing? The whole point of going before the Town Council is to air out whatever issues may exist and give the public a chance to comment. Denying this process from occurring sets a dangerous precedent regardless of whatever situation the applicant may or may not have been involved in.

Its also troubling that a council member was posting information on Facebook regarding the denial, including the "specific" reason for denial when people at the meeting had no clear idea why the applicant was denied. "We actually denied the victualling license, which meant she could not have the hearing for a liquor license" - was what the council member posted on Facebook. It would have been nice if this information was shared at the meeting instead of on social media.

As a Council member your first responsibility is at the meeting and having a clear, open and transparent process. You have applicants and members of the public present who are entitled to at the very least an explanation of your actions. This seems to be a problem in general with the Council - its very difficult to discern what action(s) they are actually taking whether it is this situation or others.

Ultimately it is the Council President Chris Stanley who sets the tone of the meetings. It seems under his leadership its become more difficult to figure out what our government is doing on our behalf and why certain decisions are made. And was it really necessary to tell the applicant "Have a Pleasant Evening"? after denying her a hearing with no explanation. Seems unprofessional and over the top regardless of the situation.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | Report this
Local Bargain Jerk

If what is printed in the article about Ms. Goldberg is true, she is a jerk.

If what is printed in the article about Warren Town Council is true, they behaved like jerks.

Mr. Heally should indeed initiate legal action against the town. The Town Councilors will be exposed for the jerks that they are. Unfortunately for Ms. Goldberg, if Mr. Sigourney shows up and presents a valid unpaid $13,000 judgement, the same will happen to her.

Lotta jerks in these parts...

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | Report this
eric-woodman

What I don't get is how they can say they won't allow discussion for your own good. That logic is a very slippery slope and entirely unAmerican (or British).

This strikes me as almost certainly illegal to deny a license without giving cause.

It seems to me that by definition the board must have met behind closed doors to reach this decision. This can't be legal in RI, can it?

As a former newspaper reporter (St. Pete Times), the story here, to me, is the obvious appearance of an illegal meeting.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | Report this
eric-woodman

Another thing: To spare Fab the embarrassment of a public hearing and then to leak the embarrassing stuff to the paper is in incredibly poor taste and shows that there must be more than what has been reported here.

Again, if I was reporting on this the story would be: "Town denies public hearing for local business duo, leaks demeaning."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | Report this

Mr. Woodman, The Town Council did not "leak embarrassing stuff to the paper." I was perfectly happy to provide background information about Basically British Tearoom to Mr. Hayes.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | Report this

The boiler room was not made over on Ms. Goldberg's dime despite what she may have told you.

She made substantial investments, no doubt. But her money was spent on the installation of her kitchen,painting and decorating, and preparing a finished space for a restaurant.. The demolition and asbestos remediation, the new roof, the new poured concrete floors, the sprayed in ceiling insulation, both restrooms, the HVAC systems and electrical service, as well as the front gardens and patio were paid for by me, the landlord who later had to sue Ms. Goldberg for nonpayment of rent. A business does, after all, need to pay its bills.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | Report this
superponte

My 2 cents: I had the pleasure of working with Fab at a charity event about 5 years ago. She was nothing but pleasant, and a joy to work with.

I do not know the particulars of the end of her Basically British restaurant, but everyone is entitled to a fair hearing if so demanded. Even if they shot her down, she deserved to be heard.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | Report this
Local Bargain Jerk

Ted:

Thanks for clarifying. I scanned too quickly from the top of the paragraph and didn't include the correct name with the judgement amount.

However, your follow-up comment is interesting. Are you saying that Mr. Sigourney also has a won a judgment against Ms. Goldberg? The article only says that "he lost some $53,000" to Ms. Goldberg, not that he has a binding court judgment. I left it alone because someone saying he is owed money could be a classic he said/she said. If a court hearing resulted in a judgment against Ms. Goldberg, that's a different kettle of fish.

The town had no right to have a closed door meeting. Ms. Goldberg has no right to defy 1 and possibly 2 court judgments. The final sentence in my original post stands.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | Report this
kimberly-gould-92

I have known Fariba for years. First as a server at a local Irsh pub, then as an employee and now as a life long friend. She has given her all even when she has had nothing. She enjoys helping others with no expectations and she has had her fair share of hard times and unprovoked disasters. One of the many beautiful things about her beyond her generosity and creativity is her ability to survive. She picks herself up from the dirt and starts all over again. She is an inspiration for those wanting to come to this country for a better life and through hard work and determination making her vision a reality. It disgusts me that the Warren Town Council would then take that away because of a singular opinion of a person, the Solicitor, who, as far as I saw, was not at the meeting to express these feelings himself. I do not believe that a person should be denied the ability to prosper because of playground antics and back door deals. Basically British was not only beautiful and unique but it was something to talk about. A true tourist attraction. I believe any establishment brought to any town by Fariba would truely be an asset for all. I also believe, by what I saw at the Warren Town Council meeting, that the council members are enjoying their positions but forgetting that their JOB is to do what is best for the town and should be keeping gossip and personal feelings out of their judgements. Let us not forget Ms. Forbes! I have not heard anyone mention how this innocent partner has been wronged over business that is a civil matter and has no place in this judgement.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | Report this
Manette Lisa Jungels Peck

I am from Providence originally and now live in Rehoboth. I have come to Warren for years. I always loved visiting Basically British, Coffee Depot, Traffords, that wonderful little breakfast place that got booted out that was on the water, the gallery Imago, the little grocery…all lovely places and great experiences.

I am sorry to be reading this article and some of the meanness that is coming out in the comments. What an odd and public place to do this. As an outsider who comes to town for an enjoyable outing it is not so attractive to be reading.

I had to look Fab up in Feb to get some receipts for my parents who had purchased some furniture from her back in 2006. I don't know her in any other way than as a business owner and she was truly fantastic. No complaints, nothing in it for her, but searched until she found those receipts from 2006.

I would be in Warren for tea and those yummy scones frequently were she to open a shop. As a consumer I hope this all falls away and she finds her way to opening a business. Maybe some delicious soups as well!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | Report this
William Foster

@ John: Actually, the police and the fire department both had no objection to the transfer of the business from The Cheese Plate to "Nosh" Restaurant- owners listed as "Fab Goldberg and V. Forbes." Which means that there were NO problems with either department. As far as taxes are concerned- I do not know details, however, I am told contingencies are always made to accommodate business owners- case in point: Fat Belly's transfer... actually, the counsel may NOT deny the request of a hearing without a public hearing according to policy. So, not end of discussion, basic problem- NO DISCUSSION which is unconstitutional. It will be interesting to see just whose skeletons do get exposed. Why not give Ms. Goldberg a chance. John, civil matters have no place in a public forum. She had a popular destination which brings $$$dollars$$$ to the town- a town that is half empty. Perhaps rather than focusing energies on Ms. Goldberg and her house- counsel may ought to focus on the mess they have created with mismanagement of funds and the school fiasco.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | Report this
harold

Well said! If i have an opportunity to work for Fab again- and I sure hope to- I would be most happy to serve you on her day off! She has been my favorite boss- yet I understand we all have our differences!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | Report this
Local Bargain Jerk

From the many comments here, the truth seems to be emerging. The truth is not fully known, of course, because we haven't heard Ms. Goldberg's side of the story.

That said, the comment above that "when you have 5 council members that don’t normally agree on anything suddenly make a unanimous vote to agree" speaks volumes. My take -- and it's worth precisely $0.02 -- is that the Town Council was trying to do the right thing by sparing Ms. Goldberg some public unpleasantness but they more or less forgot that everyone is entitled to a public hearing, even if the result of that hearing is for the petitioner to shoot off their own foot business-wise and reputation-wise.

In the hopes of saving some lawyers' fees and the resources of the courts, perhaps Ms. Goldberg can petition for a formal hearing, the Town Council can grant it, and Messrs. Sigourney and Wesson can attend such a hearing and speak publicly. I believe that would get this to an end result the quickest and cheapest.

If Mr. Hayes were there to write it all down and post the results here, well, that would just be a bonus for the rest of us clucking hens.

Thursday, April 17, 2014 | Report this
Erin Asciola

So what you are saying John, is that if a business fails, for whatever reason, and investors loose money, the person that owned the failed business should not be allowed to start another? The Warren town council is not investing in her new business, and it is not their job to do Warren taxpayers a "favor". I was a frequent customer of Basically British and miss the food and the atmosphere as there is nothing else like it. I personally do not care what happened I only hope that I can partake of Ms. Goldberg's fantastic culinary offerings sometime soon.

Thursday, April 17, 2014 | Report this
Erin Asciola

You may want to be careful, Ms. Sigourney, I can't believe the paper hasn't retracted your comment, it is most assuredly defamation of character and I would be more careful who I slander in public comment.

Friday, April 18, 2014 | Report this

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