The owner of a building housing one of Aspen’s more popular eateries is suing the founder of Zélé Café, the former restaurant located at the corner of Galena Street and Hopkins Avenue.
Godiva Holdings, owner of the 6,800-square-foot building, filed the lawsuit against Patrick Imeson and Zélé Colorado Corp. on Monday, alleging they owe nearly $86,000 in unpaid rent.
Imeson and his wife started the ground-floor cafe in the 1990s. A $4.95 lunch special, the location across from City Hall and an often-filled patio area helped grow its popularity.
Imeson later in that decade became one of two equal partners in Calim Private Equity, a private equity group. Imeson reportedly gave up private ownership of Zélé, and it became one of a portfolio of companies in Calim, according to a 2009 Aspen Daily News article.
Billionaire money manager and investor John Calamos, Imeson’s partner in Calim, sued Imeson in the mid-2000s, alleging that he was mismanaging the portfolio.
Calamos “was spending millions, and things were not improving,” former Calim manager Lisa Zimet told the Aspen Daily News in 2009. “This had become a large headache with little reward.”
In February 2005, Zélé Colorado Corp. of Denver and Aspen-based Godiva Holdings signed a lease renewal agreement that allowed Zélé to remain in business until April of that year, the lawsuit says. The defendants subsequently exercised its option to extend the lease until April 2009.
Clayton Day, a one-time investor in Zélé with Calim Private Equity, said in 2009 that the café was losing $200,000 per year.
After a settlement was reached between Calamos and Imeson in 2008, Zélé was given back to the latter and his new company, Black Diamond Holdings. The remainder of the staff were let go in June 2008. Soon after, the café changed its menu, eliminating the popular $4.95 special and hired new employees.
The corporation “stopped paying rent on Dec. 1, 2008,” and vacated the premises in April 2009, says the lawsuit, filed by Aspen attorney Curtis Sanders.
Zélé had closed its doors after 15 years in business. Its nearly year-long closure at the popular downtown corner served as a symbol that Aspen was not immune to the national recession. It was reopened in the spring of 2010 as Peach’s Corner Cafe by three business partners, including the wife of Mike Haisfield, who is managing partner in Godiva Holdings, the landlord of the building.
Imeson and the corporation have allegedly assured Godiva Holdings that they would pay rent and other amounts due.
Because they allegedly haven’t paid $85,906.81, Godiva Holdings sued in Pitkin County District Court for breaches of lease and guaranty.
It’s unclear why the plaintiff waited so long to file the lawsuit; a message left with Sanders was not returned Monday. An email sent through Imeson’s website also was not returned.