KAPA‘A — A once-bustling cafe and its owners are now on the brink of eviction facing a back rent of over $25,000 and less than 10 days to either pay that sum or turn in their keys.
Markus Boemer and his wife, Jana, own Art Cafe Hemingway.
Since leasing the property nine years ago, they’ve spent over $200,000 in renovation costs, including building an outside patio; bringing gas, electricity and water up to code; and turning the upstairs into a habitable space with two bedrooms, loft and living space. This also happens to be their home.
When the first cases of the coronavirus came about, income plummeted. Under state orders in mid-March, the cafe closed its doors for dine-in service, a core draw to the business. Normally, including rent, electricity, insurance and payroll, the cafe had an overhead of about $20,000 per month.
“We are not known as a fast-food pickup and go,” Markus Boemer said. “Customers come here, they sit here, they talk, they eat, they drink. Our goal was not turning tables; we try to create an atmosphere.”
But, it’s what they had to do. The cafe began offering pick-up and delivery, using social media to raise awareness, but business dropped by nearly 100%. The costs of produce Jana uses to cook everything from scratch, Boemer said, was higher than the income generated by takeout.
The Boemers signed the 10-year lease in September 2011, with Jasper Properties, LLC, and was handed to 82 12 Hawai‘i, LCC a few years ago. Boemer could not share the lease per a confidentiality clause.
At the end of March, Boemer sent landlord Richard Jasper of 82 12 Hawai‘i, an email requesting a rent deferral for April’s $6,528 rent, citing the pandemic’s impact on business. They offered to pay $1,000 per month going forward, more if emergency loan funding come through.
As of July, they owe a back rent of $25,287.04.
In a letter dated May 25, Jasper acknowledged the cafe’s hardships, but wrote that $1,000 a month was “not at a level that is agreeable/manageable to the Landlord”.
“Markus, I also have my own financial obligations.” Jasper wrote. “Markus, if you truly believe that your business operations will never be viable, then the Landlord must get the premise back, and try and mitigate the overall tenant rental obligations…”
Jasper did not respond to requests for comment.
For the last year, the couple has been trying to sell the cafe. In a letter from Boemer to Jasper, he asks if the rent could be reduced to make the sale more appealing to a potential buyer under the current pandemic circumstances.
After the Boemers reduced the price by 50% down to $70,000, interested buyers were unable to visit the island due to quarantines. Boemer wanted to use the sale to both get out of the business and make up the rent. They’ve gone into escrow three times, most recently in June with an interested buyer from O‘ahu, but then received a notice of legal action on July 2.
“On behalf of my client, if you do not pay back rent within 10 days of receipt of this notice, we request you turn over the premises immediately so that my client can mitigate damages by renting the premises out to a paying tenant,” the letter reads from attorney Craig DeCosta.
The letter also offers the opportunity to “make a substantial payment of the unpaid rent within 10 days” and discuss a payment plan option for the remainder. DeCosta was unavailable for comment Monday.
Notably, the letter from the attorney informed Boemer that per the lease, furniture, fixtures and equipment on the property are considered collateral for the rental shortfalls, “therefore, none of these items should be sold or removed from the premises until all rents owed are current.”
Boemer wishes he and his wife never signed their lease.
Their daughter, Leilani Boemer, set up a GoFundMe, sharing her parents’ situation. As of Monday night, the GoFund Me had raised over $10,100 of a $25,000 goal, with over 120 donors.
Overwhelmed by the community response, Markus said one customer has retained a lawyer on their behalf, whom he is awaiting more information from moving forward.
“I’m still processing,” Boemer said. “We’ll see what happens, do what we can and roll up our sleeves.”
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.