UPPER ARLINGTON, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST)–The UA Food Market’s last day of business is Saturday, but not by choice.
Owner Raj Patel is closing the grocery store at 2140 Tremont Center in Upper Arlington after losing a legal battle to stay in the space.
“I made an honest mistake,” Patel said. “Now I’m out on the street.”
Patel’s lease was set to expire in July 2021. That lease required him to provide 180-days notice – by mail – to activate a three-year option.
Patel emailed property manager Kohr Royer Griffith in May expressing the desire to take that option but was beyond the window to renew at that point.
Patel had sent a previous email in January 2020 that acknowledged the July end of the lease. In the email, he said he was considering selling the business or staying.
Eventually, Magistrate Edwin L. Skeens ruled that email did not constitute notice. And Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Julie Lynch upheld that decision.
Patel acquired the market in 2018 from Tim Huffman, who’d operated Huffman’s Market there since 1987. Patel changed the name to the UA Food Market in 2020. It was Tom Tarpey’s Market for decades prior that.
Littleton’s Market will fill that space. That venture, according to the court documents, is backed by members of the Scantland family, specifically CoverMyMeds co-founder and former CEO Alan Scantland, his son and Orange Barrel Media founder and CEO Pete Scantland and Rob Littleton, son-in-law/brother-in-law to the two and senior manager of data science and analytics at CoverMyMeds.
In the court case, Patel argued his January email should have constituted notice.
The January email to KRG read:
“I have one potential buyer of the business and he wanted to talk to the landlord or you regarding new lease terms since my lease will be expired in July 2021. Please advise how we pursue this next step? I did not market the store and I wont (sic) as my intension (sic) is still not to sale (sic) but if this deal work out I may.”
Patel, a native of India, said he sometimes struggles with English, which is his second language.
KRG and property owner Tremont Center Co. said that the lease required notice be sent by registered or certified mail, not e-mail.
The magistrate wrote that the email shows that Patel was aware of when the lease was expiring and that it does not indicate that he was unaware of the lease’s renewal provisions. He also said that it was ambiguous about whether Patel would sell the business, which would necessitate a new lease with a new operator, or stay in the space and continue to operate.
“It does not express the intention to stay and renew the lease,” the ruling said.
Patel said his nephew was the potential buyer mentioned in that email. That proposed $750,000 deal did not come to fruition.
Patel and Littleton began talking about a sale in April, with Patel initially asking for $1.1 million. He acquired the business in 2018 for $150,000 plus almost $200,000 in inventory. The business generated a $350,000 profit in 2020, according to court records.
Littleton initially discussed buying it for $400,000 to $500,000 plus inventory. Though discussions continued for months, a letter of intent was never signed. The condition of equipment in the store was the biggest concern for the potential buyers.
The lease, regardless of its length, also could not be sold by Patel, so any new operator would need to sign a new lease with the landlord.
Patel, in the court filings and in speaking with Columbus Business First, said he believes that Littleton and Kohr Royer Griffith worked behind his back on a deal.
The magistrate said that since the opportunity to renew had passed, KRG was free to find a new tenant.
In his testimony, KRG President John Royer said he also had discussions with Trader Joe’s and Aldi about the site during that period as well.
The Littleton’s Market group and KRG declined to comment. Tremont Center Co. could not be reached.
According to court filings and testimony transcripts, discussions continued on multiple fronts. Littleton first reached out to KRG in May and began lease negotiations in June, eventually resulting in a signed lease in August. The new operators will pay higher rent as well as making additional investments in expanding the space.
Meanwhile, KRG offered Patel a one-month extension to allow for additional time to either negotiate a longer lease or finalize a sale, though it was conditioned on giving up the renewal.
Littleton, in testimony, said they still pursued buying the business until a June 28 discussion when Patel said he would not sell. The group also offered a $100,000 payment to end the stalemate. Patel declined.
Patel filed the lawsuit in August. The magistrate ruled against him in November. Franklin County Common Pleas Court upheld that ruling this month.
UA Food Market will close Saturday.
Everything is 50% off.
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