Juliano’s Espresso Bar, a beloved gourmet coffee shop located on the southwest junction of 91st St. and Lexington Ave., is now closed due to an eviction order issued on May 9th.
Juliano’s has been a staple of UES café culture for thirty-one years. Owner Frank Lobosco is devastated by the closure, and is appealing the eviction.
An interim motion to stay the eviction was denied, and further deliberation on whether to grant a stay will start on May 29th before a full bench of the New York Supreme Court’s 1st Division appellate court–and will possibly continue for four to six weeks. Lobosco was issued a judgment of ejection from the premises of Juliano’s on September 6th, 2022, with $144,093.80 in owed rent granted in a money judgment to property owners Bremen House Inc.
Lobosco had argued during these proceedings that he did not sign a lease agreement with Nassau Associates LLC, which filed a complaint against him on April 19th, 2021 seeking back rent and an eviction. Indeed, Lobosco showed Our Town a copy of his 15-year lease agreement from 2005, where Bremen House Inc. (and not Nassau Associates LLC) was listed as the property owners of the commercial space Lobosco leased for his coffee shop.
The court determined that Nassau Associates LLC did indeed own the building and had standing to file a complaint, but its rationale is unclear given the ownership structure of the LLC or its business relationship with Bremen House Inc. is opaque and difficult to verify. It is certainly possible that Bremen House Inc. sold the building to an entity called Nassau Associates LLC, which then initiated the complaint against Lobosco. Neither organization was available for comment.
In the initial complaint, Bremen House Inc. (or Nassau Associates LLC) clearly established that Lobsoco owed money from March 1st, 2020 to December 31st, 2020 (when the initial term of the lease ended) totaling $113, 525.18. This was over the COVID-19 pandemic, when a steady income stream for Juliano’s would ostensibly be hard to come by, since many establishments were closed in the early days of the pandemic and open for only limited capacity later.
However, by the time of their March 23rd, 2023 decision, the courts ruled that “the COVID-19 pandemic-related regulations did not frustrate the purpose of the lease, or render defendant’s business operations objectively impossible.” Citing an executive order and a paragraph in his lease, the court showed little sympathy for Lobosco’s argument that he couldn’t cough up the necessary rent due to the pandemic.
Lobosco is hinging his case for an appeal on an estoppel agreement–as part of a mortgage refinancing loan–that indicated his lease would last an additional five years until 2025. Lobosco showed his copy of the agreement to Our Town, where a clear “X” had been marked on an option for this additional five years. In their March decision, the court did not lend credence to this argument, dismissively stating that “nothing indicates that it was a validly executed agreement to amend the lease to provide for an option to extend the lease.”
Lobosco hopes that the appeal court will view the estoppel agreement differently–as legitimate and valid–starting on May 29th, and will use it to override his eviction. It is unclear if this strategy can overcome his record of owed rent totaling nearly $150,000. If he succeeds, Juliano’s would ostensibly be back in business until at least 2025.
As for now, Lobosco is hoping for a change of heart from the judges. “They didn’t read this,” he emphasized, motioning to the estoppel agreement. It seems that they did, though, and his plea for leniency may not be enough to sway the enforcers of eviction law and an unaccountable web of LLCs and corporations.