Sar­coa turns to spe­cial events amid mu­sic-on-pa­tio prob­lems

‘We’re not go­ing away,’ says co-owner. ‘We are try­ing to live with the re­stric­tions’

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - NATALIE PAD­DON

The owner of a har­bourfront pa­tio and eatery says a le­gal bat­tle has forced it to change how it does busi­ness in or­der to stay afloat.

Sar­coa is shift­ing its fo­cus to spe­cial events af­ter run­ning into by­law trou­ble over noise com­plaints about pa­tio par­ties — a prob­lem that forced the own­ers to launch a $15-mil­lion law­suit against Hamilton Water­front Trust and the city in late 2015.

Co-owner Sam De­stro re­cently told The Spec­ta­tor the busi­ness — lo­cated on prime water­front land — is op­er­at­ing as best it can given “the lim­i­ta­tions that have been im­posed.”

“We are go­ing to do what­ever it takes … to keep this thing alive,” De­stro said. “We’re not go­ing away.”

Start­ing in spring, he said Sar­coa’s water­front pa­tio is open from Mon­day to Thurs­day while the res­tau­rant serves a brunch buf­fet on Sun­days.

A sign on the door says the pa­tio opened May 1, but on Tues­day and Wed­nes­day this week the front doors were locked. Calls about hours were not re­turned. Fri­days and Satur­days will typ­i­cally be re­served for events like wed­dings, cor­po­rate gath­er­ings or pri­vate par­ties.

The pa­tio is ex­pected to be open to the gen­eral pub­lic on week­ends if events aren’t booked, De­stro said. He rec­om­mends peo­ple check Sar­coa’s so­cial media ac­counts or web­site for up-to-date in­for­ma­tion.

The venue’s web­site has been re­branded to JEM @ Sar­coa Event Cen­tre, and a new gen­eral man­ager, Mike At­tard — who has ex­pe­ri­ence in the res­tau­rant and events busi­ness, in­clud­ing with Ger­aldo’s at LaSalle Park ban­quet and con­fer­ence cen­tre — has been brought on, De­stro said.

“We are try­ing to live with the se­vere re­stric­tions,” he said.

“We will do what­ever we can, but keep in mind, with­out mu­sic on the pa­tio … it se­verely re­stricts our abil­ity to pro­vide an en­ter­tain­ment el­e­ment that Sar­coa cus­tomers have grown to sup­port.”

In 2015, Sar­coa sued its sub-land­lord, the Hamilton Water­front Trust, and the city for $15 mil­lion for pre­vent­ing it from throw­ing pa­tio par­ties fea­tur­ing am­pli­fied mu­sic. The lit­i­ga­tion is on­go­ing.

The law­suit was sparked by a run­ning quar­rel in which the city started crack­ing down on the res­tau­rant’s pa­tio par­ties that sum­mer af­ter it had been op­er­at­ing for more than three years.

The up­scale res­tau­rant stopped play­ing out­door mu­sic be­fore bring­ing it back last year in an ef­fort to save its lag­ging busi­ness.

Sar­coa main­tains its 10-year sub­lease with the water­front trust al­lows the busi­ness to hold the par­ties de­spite noise and zon­ing by­laws.

The trust has in­sisted the lease spells out that Sar­coa must com­ply with all city by­laws and denies it promised to ob­tain ex­emp­tions for them.

Hamilton Water­front Trust ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Werner Plessl and trust board mem­ber and Ward 2 Coun. Ja­son Farr both re­ferred calls about Sar­coa to their lawyer, Louis Frap­porti.

Frap­porti said a trial date has not been set.

“The par­ties are cur­rently sched­ul­ing the next steps,” he said in an email last week.

Kon­stan­tine Ket­set­zis, Sar­coa’s lawyer, said his clients are “try­ing to find a res­o­lu­tion that doesn’t in­volve a trial at this time.”

Start­ing this sum­mer, the city is launch­ing a two-year pi­lot project to al­low live or recorded mu­sic on out­door pa­tios in seven com­mer­cial ar­eas of the city, in­clud­ing the West Har­bour.

Hamilton’s noise by­law will still ap­ply, mean­ing the mu­sic would have to end by 11 p.m. and can­not ex­ceed 60 deci­bels.

Busi­nesses in the des­ig­nated ar­eas would have to ap­ply for out­door pa­tio ex­emp­tion per­mits un­der the pi­lot, with an ap­pli­ca­tion fee of $300 to help cover the city’s ad­min­is­tra­tive costs.

De­stro said Sar­coa doesn’t plan on ap­ply­ing for this pro­gram.

The res­tau­rant is lo­cated in the Hamilton Water­front Trust Cen­tre on water­front lands that have been de­scribed as a jewel in the re­gion.

These lands are also the sub­ject of a planned $143-mil­lion re­vi­tal­iza­tion over the next decade or more to turn the city’s West Har­bour into a more ac­ces­si­ble, com­mu­nity-ori­ented space that will be home to thou­sands of new res­i­dents.

Last sum­mer, Sar­coa ex­pressed con­cerns the re­de­vel­op­ment plans were “squeez­ing” the res­tau­rant out be­cause its 120 park­ing spots ap­peared to be slated for green space in the fi­nal de­vel­op­ment plan.

The city has said Sar­coa’s des­ig­nated park­ing spots are in­cluded in the park­ing spa­ces planned for the de­vel­op­ment on Piers 7 and 8 and that the project will cre­ate “more park­ing than ever” over the next few years.

Amid this tur­moil, the res­tau­rant has been sub­ject to a hand­ful of small-claims suits over the past few years. Claimants have ranged from se­cu­rity com­pa­nies to seafood dis­trib­u­tors, with claims rang­ing from $1,500 to $25,000.

Ket­set­zis said he’s not aware of any that are still ac­tive and the res­tau­rant has been “very swift” to deal with the ones that have popped up.

“De­spite the lim­i­ta­tions and de­spite the tri­als and tribu­la­tions they’re go­ing through, (they) have still man­aged to main­tain them­selves quite well with the cred­i­tors and ev­ery­thing,” he said.

“They could’ve just done what most peo­ple would do, which is bank­rupt the cor­po­ra­tion and walk away.

“They’ve been strin­gent be­liev­ers in what’s hap­pen­ing at the water­front … they’re still there.”

Sar­coa’s pa­tio has been a go-to des­ti­na­tion on water­front land that’s de­scribed as a jewel in the re­gion.

BARRY GRAY, THE HAMILTON SPEC­TA­TOR

A bat­tle over pa­tio mu­sic has forced Sar­coa to shift its fo­cus to spe­cial events, the eatery says. Fri­days and Satur­days will be re­served for events like wed­dings and cor­po­rate gath­er­ings.

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