Niles Mancino’s fighting to stay open after landlord moves to remove it

Published 2:09 pm Friday, October 29, 2021

NILES — A local restaurant is fighting to keep its doors open.

Paul and Brenda Thrash, owners of Samuel Mancino’s Italian Eatery, 1221 S. 11th St., are working to prevent their landlord, Wild Bill’s Tobacco, from removing their business from the strip mall it currently resides in.

The Thrashes’ restaurant journey began in 2008 when they purchased their current space, which was formerly a State Farm office. The restaurant opened in 2009 and has been a presence in the community ever since.

“[The Great Recession] hit, and we survived that,” Paul said. “For the last two years we’ve been surviving COVID and now our sales are doing really well, so we were kind of excited. After putting all that time in, we’ve made it successful. Most restaurants don’t succeed the first or two or three years — they fail. So we met that milestone to outdo the average. I guess we never thought about
failing.”

The strip mall was purchased in 2018 by Wild Bill’s Tobacco, a large tobacco retailer based in Troy, Michigan. Its sister company, Oasis Wellness Center, planned to locate a provisioning center in a vacant space in the strip mall next to Mancino’s but was denied by the Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Board in September of that year.

Paul Thrash said he received an email from WBT in July about renewing the restaurant’s lease, which had expired. After responding to the email expressing his intent to renew the lease for two or three years, the Thrashes were left in the dark until receiving an email from WBT stating that the restaurant was now on a month-to-month lease.

“We take no joy in having to remove an existing business, but the Mancino’s location has been a month-to-month tenancy for some time,” wrote Paul Weisenberg, general counsel to Wild Bill’s Tobacco, in a statement to Leader Publications. “We now have a new tenant interested in taking the space that is willing to commit to a long-term lease and bring stability to the center. This is simply a business decision to do what is important to my client’s business interest and has nothing to do with the Mancino’s operation or its owners. We hope that they can find a viable location within the community and continue to serve the residents of the Niles
community.”

The news came as a shock to the Thrashes, who anticipated having their lease renewed after asking for a multi-year lease.

“I think if you asked anybody in town, they say that’s not right,” Paul Thrash said. “Some may say that it’s my fault for not getting the lease renewed, but a lease renewal is a mutual agreement by two parties. I can ask for a renewal release all day long, but if they don’t give me the opportunity, then I’m kind of like I’m waiting for them so that we can work together on this, but they won’t even do that. It’s fascinating how they’re playing this. At the end of the day, they want our spot.”

The thought of closure has been hard on Brenda, who said she has fostered relationships with customers and watched her two sons grow up around the restaurant.

“It means a lot because all the customers have become family,” she said. “We have customers that come in all the time and we basically know what they want. They come in because they like our environment, they like our food and they can count on us. … I enjoy being here. I love coming to work and seeing everybody.”

Paul hopes community support will help change WBT’s decision. He attended Monday’s Niles City Council meeting to let the council and the public know what is taking place.

“I think if the council knew that [Wild Bill’s Tobacco] was going to displace a legitimate business, they would have denied their application [to purchase the strip mall],” Paul said. “I think the public needs to know that from what I’m hearing, [Wild Bill’s Tobacco] was understanding that, too. I think we just have to be above board and have the public be aware of this. I don’t want to do it this way. I thought we could solve it, but we can’t. We need help.”

Paul has reached out to an attorney and is prepared to go to court over the matter. If the Thrashes are unable to retain the space, they do not plan on setting up shop in Niles again.

“Why would I do this again,” he said. “I have the risk of having this happen again or once you get in the door, they could say they’re going to raise the rents. They can really get you. I’m going to own my own business, but it would probably be in a different community.”

Paul believes WBT’s decision to remove Mancino’s sets a bad precedent for future businesses looking to move into the strip mall.

“What message does that send to any business owner if you’re going to build into a rented area,” he said. “It says that this could happen to anybody. In other words, there is no long-term. Everything is short term. This is really uncharted territory to say, ‘hey, go ahead and invest your hard-earned money in your savings into something that someone else can just take it.’ To me, it’s like theft.”