By all appearances, the owner of the now shuttered Little Annie’s Eating House had given up on the business: He stopped paying rent months ago, sales taxes to the city and state have gone unpaid, and employees claim their health insurance coverage has lapsed and they are due back wages.
Ed Dingilian, who lives out of town, hasn’t said much since the 41-year-old restaurant he owns was seized by the Colorado Department of Revenue on Oct. 15 because he allegedly owes more than $44,000 in state sales taxes.
But the landlords of the building, father-and-son business partners Andy and Nikos Hecht, have spoken up and stepped up in an attempt to save Little Annie’s.
Nikos Hecht, managing partner of Aspen Core Ventures LLC, which owns the Little Annie’s building, said Dingilian hasn’t paid rent in four months.
And the rent has actually gone down since they purchased the building a few years ago — from $10,500 a month to $9,500, Andy and Nikos Hecht said.
“We didn’t throw him out,” Nikos Hecht added.
The Hechts’ plan is to make what’s known as a “bulk bid” on Tuesday when the state will auction off the contents of the restaurant in order to pay off the tax bill. If they are successful, they will take possession of the restaurant, create a new company, infuse it with about $50,000 in working capital and let the employees run the business.
“We are giving them all the profits, hopefully it will be a family affair,” Andy Hecht said.
The Hechts wouldn’t charge the new business rent for the first month and after that, the price would be determined.
“They are going to pay what they can afford,” Andy Hecht said.
The Hechts said the 35-plus restaurant employees got caught in the middle of Dingilian’s problems and they are trying to make them whole.
“They didn’t do anything wrong,” Nikos Hecht said.
The restaurant would remain open through April 1 and then close for an extensive, multimillion-dollar remodel. When it reopens, the Hechts said they hope it will still operate as Little Annie’s but under new ownership. Dingilian owns the trademark name, but the landlords hope he gives it up.
The Hechts have been talking to the proprietors of Cache Cache restaurant as a possible operator, although Andy Hecht said they are considering others as well.
When Little Annie’s closes this spring, the Hechts said they plan to have a party that will last several days, and then auction off the items in the restaurant — the proceeds of which will go to the employees and charity.
Aspen Core Ventures bought the Little Annie’s building, the Tom Benton building next door and the parking lot next to that in 2010 for $17.75 million. The Hechts voluntarily designated the Little Annie’s and Tom Benton buildings as historic, saving them from the wrecking ball. That was done to secure council approval and bonuses for the mixed-use development under construction at the corner of Hunter Street and Hyman Avenue.
“I didn’t go through all that … to watch [Little Annie’s] go out like this,” Nikos Hecht said.