About two dozen employees of the shuttered Little Annie’s Eating House were told Thursday by their former boss that there is a chance they could get their jobs back for a few months starting sometime in November.
The restaurant’s general manager, Ron Fleming, said he has been talking with Lex Tarumianz, property manager for the building at 517 E. Hyman Ave. where Annie’s has been housed for 41 years. He told employees that should a restaurant reopen in the spot, it would have to close again in April when the building is slated to undergo an extensive renovation.
“I’ve been working pretty hard to try to open Little Annie’s back up,” Fleming said. “The landlord is working with me and I think they’re gonna let me have it through the end of March. There’s a lot to overcome. There’s a possibility we could have this place open in about two weeks.”
Fleming asked the workers for a show of hands to determine how many would be willing to go back to work later this year, and most of them responded affirmatively.
In all, the restaurant had an estimated 40 workers before it was shuttered by the state on Oct. 15 because of more than $44,000 in unpaid sales taxes.
Fleming declined to elaborate on ways in which the restaurant could reopen when further questioned by reporters. The state Department of Revenue has scheduled an auction for 11 a.m. Tuesday to sell the seized assets inside the eatery in an attempt to satisfy the sales-tax debt. The restaurant also owes the city of Aspen more than $12,000 in back sales taxes.
Tarumianz, the property manager representing building owner Nikos Hecht and partners, did not return a phone call seeking comment Thursday. The restaurant’s lease, held by Little Annie’s Restaurant LLC and its owner Ed Dingilian, expires at the end of this month, so any new arrangement to open a restaurant would likely involve a new, short-term lease and new ownership.
Should the bar and kitchen equipment, dining room tables and chairs and other necessary items be sold at auction, it would be difficult to reopen in the same location, attorney Jeff Wertz acknowledged. It was he who arranged the informational meeting with Fleming and employees on the sidewalk across the street from Little Annie’s on Thursday to discuss issues related to unpaid wages, unemployment compensation and benefits.
“I don’t know what would have to be done to reopen Annie’s,” Wertz said. “Realistically, they would have to head off the auction. Or the stuff inside would have to stay there, auction or not.”
During the workers’ meeting, Wertz mentioned that inside the padlocked building there are a few personal items belonging to employees that the state has a right to seize, such as a set of kitchen knives and other equipment. Because the knives were used in restaurant operations, the state can lay claim to them and sell them at auction.
“If you fall into that category, I suggest you come to the auction on Tuesday and try to buy your stuff back at a nominal price,” he said. “I hope no one is going to be a jackass and try to outbid you for your own property.”
Wertz said other personal items, such as jackets, cellphones and photos of loved ones, don’t qualify as seized assets and can be returned to workers who are able to identify them.