Elk Mountain Restaurant closes due to eviction, conflict with owner | CraigDailyPress.com

Elk Mountain Restaurant closes due to eviction, conflict with owner

Lauren Blair

The Elk Mountain Restaurant in Craig closed shortly before the restaurant owners, Catherine and Mathew Eye, were evicted on June 21 by the building owner, Mitch Epstein, of Carbondale. The eviction was based on several breaches of the lease, but the Eyes claim they were being harassed by Epstein.

One of Craig's newest food establishments, the Elk Mountain Restaurant on U.S. Highway 40 east of Craig, is now closed because the building’s owner evicted it.

In a complaint filed with the Moffat County Court, building owner Mitch Epstein, of Carbondale, alleged that the restaurant owners broke their lease by failing to maintain required insurance coverage, by residing on the premises and by completing improvements to the building without landlord consent.

But after more than a year in business and earning five-star ratings on both TripAdvisor and Facebook, restaurant owners Catherine and Mathew Eye told supporters on their Facebook page that they were being harassed and slandered by Epstein.

"We are sorry to say we have closed and are looking to relocate our restaurant in the near future," The Elk Mountain Restaurant posted to its Facebook page June 24.

"We are all about hospitality and this has been so hard for our family dealing with such anger and slander," the restaurant owners said in a comment below the original post.

The Eyes declined an initial request for an interview with the Daily Press and couldn't be reached on a second attempt.

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Epstein, who's owned the building at 1740 East Highway 40 for 10 years, said the Eyes didn't address issues he brought up to them such as acquiring insurance or removing their pets from the premises — though no mention of pets or animals is made in the lease.

Epstein called the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment about cats and dogs living on the premises, citing concern over sanitary conditions. A health inspector made an unannounced visit on May 24.

"He saw no evidence of animals in the retail food establishment," said CDPHW Retail Food Program Coordinator Troy Huffman. "And there was a clear separation between the living quarters and where the retail establishment part that was licensed by us existed, so there was no action by the state health department."

Regardless, Epstein named a "laundry list” of other problems, including bounced checks and late rent, leaving him with "no choice but to evict them," he said in a phone interview with the Daily Press.

Through the court, Epstein served the Eyes with a written demand for compliance on May 26, giving them three days to address the three issues named in the complaint: required insurance, living on the premises and making alterations without landlord consent.

Epstein obtained a judgment from the court June 12, and an eviction notice was posted on the restaurant's door by the Moffat County Sheriff's Office at 2 p.m. June 19, giving the Eyes until 10 a.m. June 21 to gather their belongings and vacate the premises.

Epstein had previously offered to sell the building to the couple, who refused due to the price.

"I said, we're not getting along, I don't like you guys, you can either move out or buy the place," Epstein said. "$155,000 is what I want for it. I paid $150,000 for it nine years ago."

But the Eyes refused, stating the price was too high.

"The property owner offered us the opportunity to purchase the building appraised at $58,000 for $165,000," Catherine Eye told the Daily Press in an email. "In retaliation of our decision to not purchase the building, he ended our lease in 24 hours and gained all our renovations."

Values listed on the Moffat County Assessor Data Site reveal that Epstein purchased it for $155,500 in 2007 from Gabriel Daigle, who paid $60,000 for it in 2006. The 2017 appraised value is $61,481 compared to $58,759 in 2016.

"I may have paid too much for the property, but I'm not going to take a big loss on it, that's for sure," Epstein said. "I think $150,000 was a very fair price for the rental income you get off it."

The Eyes paid $950 in rent in 2017, according to the terms of the lease.

The restaurant owners say they're hoping to find a new home for their restaurant, and Epstein said his building is available for rent or for sale.

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1795 and follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.